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Estimates show China's carbon emissions lower than previously thought

Staff writer ▼ | August 20, 2015
China's carbon emissions have been substantially over estimated by international agencies for more than 10 years, according to research co-led by the University of East Anglia.
China carbon emissions
New data   China is not such a big polluting country
From 2000-2013 China produced 2.9 gigatonnes less carbon than previous estimates of its cumulative emissions. The findings suggest that overestimates of China's emissions during this period may be larger than China's estimated total forest sink - a natural carbon store - in 1990-2007 (2.66 gigatonnes of carbon) or China's land carbon sink in 2000-2009 (2.6 gigatonnes of carbon).

The revised estimates of China's carbon emissions were produced by an international team of researchers, led by Harvard University, UEA, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University, in collaboration with 15 other international research institutions.

The team re-evaluated emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production from 1950-2013. They used independently assessed activity data on the amounts of fuels burned and new measurements of emissions factors - the amount of carbon oxidised per unit of fuel consumed - for Chinese coal.

Nearly three-quarters of the growth in global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production between 2010-2012 occurred in China. Yet estimates of Chinese emissions remain subject to large uncertainty due to conflicting assessments of energy consumption and emission factors.

Using different official sources of activity data and emissions factors can result in estimates that vary by up to 40 per cent in a given year.

Lead UK researcher Prof Dabo Guan, of UEA's School of International Development, said the key contributor to the new estimates was fuel quality, which for the first time was taken into consideration in establishing emission inventories - something the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and most international data sources had not.

The researchers found that total energy consumption in China was 10 per cent higher between 2000-2012 than the value reported by the country's national statistics.

However, emission factors for Chinese coal were on average 40 per cent lower than the default levels recommended by the IPCC. Emissions from China's cement production were 45 per cent less that recent estimates.