China has turned a corner. It’s gone from horrible to normal regarding its emissions growth. That’s really good news for the world, but here’s the catch: It has nothing to do with the UN negotiations or Paris.
The graph adjust CO2 emissions for growth in GDP. On average, for the last 19 years, the rest of the world has increased emissions at the rate of 0.38 tonnes per $1000 increase in GDP (in 2005 $US). This rate has been almost constant for 19 years. But not so for China.
China followed this path for about 5 years, then shot up unexpectedly and increased its emissions by an extra 5 billion tonnes/year — almost as much as the US emits. the US, on the other hand, has slowed its rate emissions growth per $1 of GDP.
For the rest of the world as a whole, not much, although this varies from country to country. The US has been very slowly getting better. China took off, and this is not due to its GDP growth, because the graph shows only the extra emissions above what would be expected from a normal response to GDP growth. This was due to energy-intensive industrial development (with much of the output bought by Europe and the US), and buy the almost exclusive use of coal to power this development — often with very inefficient generators. From 2002 to 2005, China increases CO2 at 3.9 tonnes per $1000, ten times the rate of the rest of the world.
That led to horrendous pollution, which is now killing about 1.6 million Chinese per year. And that led to a change in China’s energy policy. After corrupt officials, air pollution worries the Chinese public most. Climate change does not make it into their top 15 concerns.
Implications for Paris
That claims that the Paris INDC pledges are going to have a big effect are based largely on two confusions.
- First, the UN and other researchers count the dramatic change in China’s energy policy as driven by UN climate negotiations. In fact is has nothing to do with climate and even less to do with the UN.
- Second, the pledges are said to improve on the world’s “business as usual” trajectory. This trajectory is based on old data, and so it is based on China’s passed bad CO2 behavior. But that turned out not to be “business as usual.”
So most of the supposed positive effect of INDC pledges is just an indication of past mistakes in UN forecasts of business as usual.
The bottom line is that the Paris agreement is having essentially no effect except to make the world feel better about postponing real climate action till 2030. By then we will have used up 2/3 of our 1,000 Gt CO2 budget and it will be impossible to achieve one of the 2C scenarios.