21 September 2009

Unwarranted Credulity in the FT

The FT has another bit of unrealism in its pages today, in an article about China's climate policies:

China will be at the forefront of combating climate change by 2020 if it meets government targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency suggests.

The finding contrasts sharply with the widespread image internationally of China as a country of inefficient, carbon-intensive industry that is resisting international calls to curb its emissions.

Birol, IEA chief economist, said: “If China reaches its targets – and in the past, it has reached most of its targets of this kind – its emissions [growth] will have declined so much by 2020 that it will be the country that has achieved the largest emission reductions. China will be at the forefront of combating climate change.”

China’s strong showing in curbing emissions will make negotiations on a new global agreement on climate change easier.

The key here is "if China reaches its targets" -- something I recently discussed and concluded:
The assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization in the Chinese emissions paths are yet another example of "magical solutions" on climate policy. With China's emissions growing at 12.2% per year during the present decade, it is inconceivable that this rate will somehow drop to 3.4% per year to 2020, much less the 1.8% or 0.9% per year implied by the low growth scenarios.
Doesn't the FT ever interview anyone for an alternative point of view?

9 comments:

Jason S said...

Roger,

The 12.2% number that you quote is very likely imaginary. It almost certainly includes vast increases in CO2 emissions that first occurred during the 1990s, but were not included in the analysis until the 2000s.

The Chinese predict that RIGHT NOW their emissions are growing at substantially less than half that rate.

Far from being some "magical" reduction that will happen a decade in the future, the Chinese emissions trajectory will be confirmed or falsified in the very near future.


It would hardly be surprising if, in five years, climate activists hold up this 12.2% figure as an accurate representation of what happened in China from 2000-2007, and use it to justify future plans which call for genuinely magical emissions reductions.

So I would discourage you from using that number.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-1-Jason S

I agree that Chinese data (on emissions and GDP) is to be viewed cautiously.

But so long as the data is good enough for EIA, it'll be good enough for me. Do note that the conclusion of the presence of "magical solutions" is insensitive to whether Chinese emissions this decade were 12% or 6% or even 0%, as discussed here:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/08/autonomous-deacrbonization-in-chinas.html

Jason S said...

Roger,

Suppose that five years from now the EIA data shows that China went (virtually overnight) from a 12.2% rate of growth in emissions to a 3.4% rate of growth, without ever falling below a 7-8% rate of growth in GDP.

Won't this be considered proof by many that sudden radical decarbonization is possible without catastrophic economic consequences?

Anectodal data is already available (ripe for cherry picking) to support an argument that this sudden change resulted from top down application of environmental policies by the central government. (This conclusion would be horrifically wrong, but as long as the EIA data is there to support it, it can be done quite convincingly).

If China can spontaneously decarbonize in this manner, it will provide credibility to countless other plans that call for similar "magical" changes.

Maurice Garoutte said...

But Jason, if you want us to believe that China would fudge their numbers about CO2 for an advantage in future international regulations you need to show where they have already pulled that trick. Oh wait; there is that issue of the Chinese fishing catch as in “China's Statistics Are Fishier Than Its Oceans” in Newsweek.

Gamesmanship is a normal and expected part of politics. Roger’s point about the FT not seeking an alternative view on a story that agrees with their viewpoint is a sad indicator that gamesmanship is now normal in the media.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-3-Jason S

You ask:

"Suppose that five years from now the EIA data shows that China went (virtually overnight) from a 12.2% rate of growth in emissions to a 3.4% rate of growth, without ever falling below a 7-8% rate of growth in GDP.

Won't this be considered proof by many that sudden radical decarbonization is possible without catastrophic economic consequences?"

Yes, that is indeed what such data would imply -- though 5 years is probably a bit short for a conclusion about long-term decarbonization.

Eric said...

I assume that the IEA like any mainstream political organisation is lying when there is a reason to lie. The reason here is the fiction that the Chinese are reducing emissions.

My opinion has always been that global warming is little more than back door globalisation. It is incredible that environmentalists have been so easily duped into accepting the movement of manufacturing from clean first world factories to very dirty third world factories.

That will be the inevitable result of cap and trade. Not counting the billion or so new co2 emitting consumers.

The winners will be the investment banking system because they concocted cap and trade for their benefit, not ours. They are also the ones that built the slave labour camps of China.

I am not suggesting that climate science is nonsense, but the IPCC process is a manipulation of the consensus of willing, ambitious participants. It is veryy easy to spin something as complex as this.

Jason S said...

#6, I am absolutely NOT accusing the IEA or China of lying or deliberately misrepresenting its numbers (in this case).

Estimating emissions is more art than science. Newly built coal plants do not come with CO2 meters attached.

In the late 1990s China's spectacular growth was substantially underestimated by the West. It is hardly surprising that the IEA got it wrong as well.

eo said...

Let us not forget, China exports from 35 to 40 per cent of its GDP and has a trade surplus equivalent to 10 per cent of its GDP. Granted that China is fudging its data, 35 to 40 per cent of this fudging is really emissions that should have been generated in importing countries if those goods have been manufactured in their jurisdictions. As I mentioned earlier if a generalized system of emission accounting is made wherein all countries developed and developing countries will have to account for their emissions plus and minus the emissions in the imports and exorts respectively, the Chinese emission could easily be lowered by 10 per cent or roughly 150 million tons per year to a high of 30 per cent considering that its imports are mostly ores, services, software, and high precision machineries with high value $ value added per unit of additional GHG emissions. The approximately the same thing holds true for India and to a lesser extent to Japan.
Under the present system of emission reduction, a country whose GDP is almost from services could claim it is 100 per cent GHG emission free while having an average life style similar to Al Gore because all items used in the economy are imported and the energy to run those items are from nuclear power.

Eric said...

35 to 40 per cent of this fudging is really emissions that should have been generated in importing countries if those goods have been manufactured in their jurisdictions

****

That's absolutely true. However, China is essentially the manufacturing arm of Global Capitalism Inc. Modern China was created by Anglo American finance and they profit from it.

The word 'China' in this context might be regarded as a proxy for 'The City of London' or 'Wall Street'. That's why there will be no mandatory obligations on them to reduce emissions and they will be subsituted by interesting phrases like 'decrease carbon intensity'. A term apparently originally conjured up by the Bush administration.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/22/climate-change-china-us-united-nations

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.