News & Media Opinion Pieces The West is partly responsible for China’s green house emissions

The West is partly responsible for China’s green house emissions

The West is partly responsible for China’s green house emissions

A Chinese intellectual visiting the US was heard to say that the Americans must be mad to buy all this rubbish; he was referring to the mountains of Chinese consumables. Here lies the problem in apportioning responsibility for green house emissions. China is now the largest emitter in the world and a new study shows that exports to the West are a major source of these emissions.
In summary, half of the increase in emissions is due to production of exported goods and services, 60 per cent of which are exported to the West. This means Western consumers are partially responsible for one third of increases in Chinese emissions. These exports tend to be electronic products, metals, chemicals and textile products.

The study details
The study used data from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics for the period 2005 to 2007 and a method called ‘structural decomposition analysis’ whereby CO2 emissions were classified into five driving forces:

    * Population,
    * Emission intensity or efficiency,
    * Economic production structure,
    * Consumption patterns
    * Per capita consumption volume (changing lifestyles).

Population growth and changing lifestyles were relatively weak factors, causing only 2 and 1 per cent of emission increase respectively.(By comparison, on present trajectory Australia’s population is likely to reach 30 million by 2050 and so population is a major factor impairing emission reduction and a factor that neither political party proposes to do anything about.)

Efficiency gain had little effect on CO2 emissions because electricity generation has remained coal dominated

Two main factors drove the growth in emissions: an increase in per capita consumption (37 per cent of growth in emissions) and changes in the structure of production for exports (27 per cent of growth in emissions)
Urban households and governmental institutions were responsible for most of the remaining increase in emissions

Some implications for China
The focus should be on energy efficiency in its manufacturing so that low-carbon technologies are developed. It could review its export structure by adding further value to its exports. Future international climate agreements could consider ways to address ‘carbon leakage’, whereby a country reduces emissions in its own territory but causes increases elsewhere through imports. The EU is already taking steps to assess this in Europe.
What are the implications for Australia?
Countries exporting their manufacturing industries and jobs to China and India are exporting the emissions that result from that manufacture. It is inevitable that carbon taxes will be introduced on imported products similar to value-added taxation, for this will be one of the means of restoring equity

What are the implications for the world?
There are too many of us and in the West we consume as if there was no tomorrow; tomorrow is problematic unless we come to terms with the issue

Source: Guan, D., Peters, G.P., Weber, C.L. et al. (2009). Journey to world top emitter: An analysis of the driving forces of China’s recent CO2 emissions surge. Geophysical Research Letters. 36 L04709, doi:10.1029/2008GL036540.