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Factories in China produce four times as much CO2 as Western factories

Posted By Joanne Nova On October 9, 2015 @ 7:54 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

China is making the world’s products, but in terms of carbon they are horribly inefficient compared to the West. Old factories and coal fired electricity mean the country is pouring out CO2 — not that that matters, but it rather puts the squeeze on anyone who thinks it’s good for the environment to shut down clean western factories and give that production to China.

China, export emissions, CO2, pollution map

Figure 2 | China’s emission exports and the top exporting provinces. a The emissions embodied in goods exported from China to the US, EU and Japan are shown, representing 58% of all emissions embodied in trade in 2007 (the largest flows are labelled in MtCO2 yr-1.

A new study came out by Lui et al. with headlines all over like “Goods manufactured in China not good for the environment, study finds”. But none of these media outlets put a number on it — how much more polluting were these Chinese factories? The answer was right there in table 1 of the paper. Lui et al compare 15 products made in China and the EU, and found that China produces 4.4 times the emissions of CO2 in order to produce the same product.

When Chinese workers make steel, they make 2.8 times as much “pollution”. When they make cast iron, its 4.1 times as “polluting”. When they make polypropylene, they generate 18.4 times as much CO2. When a factory moves from the West to China, the Greens should spit chips.

China, CO2, emissions, factories, pollution, efficiency

Table 1 | Life cycle carbon emission intensity for 15 products
from China and EU.

The data comes from 2007, but is very detailed, even breaking down emissions from separate regions of China. In terms of exporting emissions, no country comes close to China (Graph a, below). In terms of importing emissions, the US heads the pack, followed by Japan, Germany, the UK, and then China (Graph d). If we look at exports of emissions minus the imports, China tops the list again while Australia just makes it into fifth spot.

Graph g below suggests Australia is the 5th highest net exporter of emissions.  More than any other western nation, we are a high emitter of CO2 because of what we export.

China, Australia, emissions, export, graphic,

Figure 1 | Emissions embodied in trade. Top ten regions (including top five countries and top five Chinese cities/provinces) by emissions embodied in exports (a–c), imports (d–f) and net trade (g–i), shown in absolute numbers (a,d,g), per dollar of output (b,e,h) and per capita (c,f,i). Data is for 2007.

The paper is paywalled, so a few quotes below for those who want to know more. Basically the problem is the poorest regions of China are horribly inefficient, but even coastal China is far less efficient than the West.

Emissions embodied in Chinese exports

Figure 1 shows the top five countries and the top five Chinese provinces whose exports, imports and net trade embody the greatest CO2 emissions, including the greatest emissions per unit of economic output and per capita. China is the largest net exporter of embodied emissions, by a large margin (Fig. 1g) with eight times more emissions embodied in its exports than its imports (Fig. 1a,d). In contrast, this ratio of emissions embodied in exports to imports is much less in other major exporting nations (for example, 0.5 in the US, 0.5 in Japan, 1.3 in India, 1.2 in Canada, 0.5 in Germany and 1.5 in Australia).”

China’s provinces are also the most carbon-intensive exporters in the world. The average emissions embodied per dollar of Chinese exports is 1,357 g CO2/US$, which is about six times the average emissions embodied per dollar of China’s international imports (230 g CO2/US$). This is reflected in the very high emissions embodied per dollar of exports from individual provinces, which comprise all of the top ten regions in this category (Fig. 1b). The provinces with the greatest emissions intensity of exports also tend to be less economically developed; provinces where GDP is less than US$4,000 per capita show the largest difference in the emission intensity of exports and imports (Supplementary Fig. 1).

About 80% of China’s export-related emissions are produced by these poorer regions, where the emissions intensity of exports is more than five times the emissions intensity of imports. For example, in Guizhou, where per capita GDP was US$900 in 2007, the emissions intensity of international exports was almost 31 times the emissions intensity of imports (Supplementary Fig. 1). Similarly high ratios exist in the also poor provinces of Inner Mongolia, Yunnan and Gansu. In the more affluent coastal provinces, ratios of emissions intensity of exports to imports are much smaller: ratios in Beijing, Zhejiang and Shanghai are 2.8, 3.0 and 4.1, respectively. But even these ratios are still much higher than those of other large trading nations such as US (0.8), Germany (0.4), Japan (0.2), Canada (1.1), the UK (0.3) and India (1.7).”

China’s carbon inefficiency results from its type of imports and exports, and that it primarily uses coal for energy. A few choice quotes:

“Driving factors of China’s carbon-intensive trade

Several factors can contribute to the observed differences in the magnitude and intensity of emissions embodied in exports and imports. First, in recent years China has become a `factory for the world’, with high concentrations of global heavy industry and manufacturing. For example, China produces 60%, 51% and 65% (by mass) of the world’s cement, steel and coke, respectively…

“Meanwhile, mining products is the category with the greatest proportion of emissions embodied in Chinese imports (23%). The dominance of these industries in Chinese trade implies that China is not just the world’s workshop, but is engaged in the most emission intensive stages of manufacturing…

 In 2007, 75% of China’s primary energy was supplied by coal, the highest level among major energy-consuming nations.

Per capita emissions embodied in trade

(This is not the same as per capita emissions overall.).

China, emissions per capita, export emissions, CO2, pollution

Figure 1 | Emissions embodied in trade. Top ten regions (including top five countries and top five Chinese cities/provinces) by emissions embodied in
exports (a–c), imports (d–f) and net trade (g–i), shown in absolute numbers (a,d,g), per dollar of output (b,e,h) and per capita (c,f,i). Data is for 2007.


h/t Lance W. Thanks!


Zhu Liu, Steven J. Davis, Kuishuang Feng, Klaus Hubacek, Sai Liang, Laura Diaz Anadon, Bin Chen, Jingru Liu, Jinyue Yan, Dabo Guan. Targeted opportunities to address the climate–trade dilemma in China. Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2800

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