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CO2 emissions? It’s China China China all the way down…

No matter which way we slice and dice it, China is The-CO2-Player that matters. India is forecast for a larger percentage-wise increase, but it’s starting from a small base. By 2030 even after doubling its output, it will still be barely a quarter of China’s total mega-ton production. The Congo and Indonesia are among countries forecast to ramp up production of CO2 massively, yet both of them are but a spec. The hard numbers show that if CO2 actually mattered, and the eco-greens really cared about it, they be talking about “The China Problem”.

Australia is irrelevant, except in some symbolic sacrificial way. The 28% massive reduction, at great cost, will amount to nothing globally (assuming it can even be achieved). Though Tasmania may win the global race for the fastest transition from first to third world. (North Korea here we come).

In the end, the real drivers of global CO2 may or may not be things like forest and peat fires, ocean currents, phytoplankton in any case.  Won’t it be a great day when we figure exactly where all that CO2 is coming from and going to?

       — Jo


COP21 Pledges for greenhouse gas emissions

Guest Post by Tom Quirk

 189 countries submitted pledges to the COP21 meeting in Paris at the end of 2015. These have been sorted and summarised in a very useful website Carbon Brief[1]. The following analysis is based on the top 12 countries for greenhouse gas emissions. This covers 72% of the world total but ignores forest and peat fires. The pledges cover broadly defined greenhouse gas emissions. For instance Brazil has land use emissions that are estimated at 4 times the sum of their other contributions.

The total greenhouse gas emissions for 2012 were 10.85 Gt C in CO2-eqivalent while total CO2 emissions were estimated to be 9.68 Gt C in CO2. (Source Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center CDIAC[2])

The pledges have been standardized to be from 2012 to 2030 as countries have chosen various starting points to indicate their plans. The most important and most uncertain pledge is the target for China. The 75% increase indicated below is a “best estimate”.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.

Evil countries planning to give cheap electricity to their citizens are marked in red.

Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.

Global emissions are about China and some also-rans not worth mentioning.


For greenhouse gas emissions the pledges would see an increase from 7.83 Gt C to 9.59 Gt C for the 72% fraction analysed. This is a 23% increase. It is clear that China is both the major contributor to the increase and the source of the greatest uncertainty.

USA performance for CO2

For the USA the CDIAC record of CO2 emissions shows the conversion from using coal to natural gas in power stations has driven the decline in CO2 emissions. An example of an innovation by reduced cost not subsidy. The indicated targets for USA emissions are labelled intention with a 28% reduction of total emissions by 2025. The extension to 2030 gives a reduction of 25% from 2012 to 2030.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.



China performance for CO2

For China the CDIAC record shows the importance of coal use in power stations. This will drive emission increases.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.

(China — eating coal for breakfast, lunch and dinner says Jo.)


The key pledge is a 60% cut to the 2005 CO2 emission intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of GDP).

The table below shows the relationship of GDP to CO2 emissions. The estimates used to calculate the 2030 emissions are based on 5% annual GDP growth and a pledged CO2 intensity of 0.96 CO2 in tonnes C-equiv per $10,000 of GDP.


Population 2012 (million)

GDP per capita 2013 (World Bank)

CO2 emissions per capita in  tonnes C  2012 (CDIAC)

CO2 Intensity: CO2 per GDP in tonnes C per $10,000 GDP












Australian performance for greenhouse gas emissions    

The Australian performance is reported by two agencies, first CDIAC giving CO2 and second greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 equivalent C from the Federal Government Department of the Environment[3].

It is worth noting that the present annual increases in China’s annual emissions are equal to the annual emissions from Australia.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.

Australian emissions black total are mostly due to coal (red squares)


For Australia the use of black and brown coal provides the fuel for power generation. The plateau in energy emissions which is seen in both records may be due to increasing electricity prices limiting demand as well as the closing of mineral processing plants such as aluminium smelters. The decline in greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2006 appears to be due to changes in the land use contribution. Land contributions are not well measured and subject to accounting rule changes.

The present government has avoided a direct carbon tax that would impact commercial activity by introducing a Direct Action plan for plant and soil sequestration of CO2. Further the changes in land use accounting rules will help the Direct Action plan but the time needed for this plan to have an impact is uncertain. So the 31% reduction in emissions from 2012 to 2030 remains problematic.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.

[From Jo — Australian carbon emissions – the only reason they are the same now as 25 years ago is thanks to “land use changes” and we stopped some naughty Aluminium firms from making a product here that we all use. ]


A glaring omission in the COP21 meeting was consideration of forest and peat fires which may produce as much as half of all fossil fuels burned. (See also “Where have those fossil fuel emissions gone?“). [They forget phytoplankton too, says Jo.]  The fires are treated as “acts of God” since He or She is not anthropogenic (an interesting philosophical question). Thus these emissions are no longer included in the inventory of contributions. However the annual forest and peat fires CO2 emissions are estimated to be equal to 50% of present total annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions[4].

Only one country, North Korea has decarbonised itself at great cost to its people. There, per capita emissions have dropped from 3 tonnes C in CO2 in 1997 to less than 1 tonne C in CO2. The best illustration of this is the NASA image of the Korean peninsula at night.


Paris,Climate Change, CO2. 2016.



Night image of the Korean Peninsula in 2014 shows that North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China (source NASA).

Finally the best summary for COP21 is to be found in the Bolivian submission where capitalism is “a system of death”, carbon markets are rejected and a call for a world carbon budget between countries, with 89% allocated to the developing world.

However what is clear from the pledges is that China and India will become the largest emitters of greenhouse gases with rises in the standard of living in both countries. Why should they curtail their growth?

So how can this COP21 “construct” work?


[1]  http://www.carbonbrief.org/paris-2015-tracking-country-climate-pledges

[2]  http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/meth_reg.html

[3]  http://www.environment.gov.au/climate-change/greenhouse-gas-measurement/tracking-emissions

[4] David M. J. S. Bowman, Jennifer K. Balch, Paulo Artaxo, William J. Bond, Jean M. Carlson, Mark A. Cochrane, Carla M. D’Antonio, Ruth S. DeFries, John C. Doyle, Sandy P. Harrison, Fay H. Johnston, Jon E. Keeley, Meg A. Krawchuk, Christian A. Kull, J. Brad Marston, Max A. Moritz, I. Colin Prentice, Christopher I. Roos, Andrew C. Scott, Thomas W. Swetnam, Guido R. van der Werf, Stephen J. Pyne: Fire in the Earth System, Science, Vol 324 24 April 2009 481



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