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China’s may achieve its goal to stop the growth of its carbon emissions before its deadline of 2030 because the country's discharge of carbon dioxide already may be less than reflected in current estimates, according to a new study.
Beijing hasn’t reported on the level of its CO2 emissions for 2014, but outside groups estimate it at between 9 billion and 10 billion metric tons. As China continues to invest in its economy, that figure is expected to grow to as high as 20 billion metric tons.
But any estimates of growth are meaningless if they’re based on an inaccurate reading of the current level of emissions, according to Dabo Guan, a climate specialist at Britain’s University of East Anglia, one of the 24 authors of the study, published Aug. 19 in the journal Nature. “Without an accurate baseline, any target will become a number-crunching game,” he told Reuters.
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In fact, the study says, current estimates are overestimating CO2 discharges from China in 2013 by between 10 percent 14 percent because they a formula to gauge the emissions that doesn’t apply to China because of the lower-quality coal it uses, which contains 40 percent less carbon than coal used elsewhere.
Based on that information, the authors of the Nature study conclude that China’s emissions for 2013 were more like 9.13 billion metric tons, below the estimates by the European Union’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) and the energy giant BP.
The Nature paper said researchers carefully analyzed many of the kinds of coal used throughout China, gauging the quality of its combustibility and its carbon content, according to Steven J. Davis of the University of California at Irvine, one of authors of the study.
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“We measured thousands of samples of coal from mines across China and found that the carbon content of the coal being burned in China is actually much lower than what has been assumed in previous estimates of emissions,” Davis told The New York Times in an e-mail.
Arriving at accurate estimates is likely to be a key topic at negotiations scheduled for December in Paris about reaching a new global agreement on limiting emissions so that each participating countries can have a better idea about how much it must reduce its own CO2 discharges.
The most recent year for which Beijing has published an official estimate of its carbon emissions was 2005, when it said it discharged about 7.47 billion metric tons. An update, with estimates through 2010, is expected next year.
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Despite the discovery of an apparent overestimate of China’s CO2 emissions, Guan says China still has a lot of hard work ahead to meet its goal on emissions. “China is still the largest emitter in the world,” he said in a separate interview with The Times. “But it shows we need to know a more accurate base line for emissions, not only for China but also for the other emissions giants.”
In 2006 China passed the United States as the world’s biggest air polluter. It now discharges nearly twice as much CO2 than Americans do, and its emissions account for more than one-fourth of the total CO2 being discharged globally.
By Andy Tully Of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com