China’s Greenhouse Gas Problems

Outside Japan, energy consumption in East Asia is dominated by one sector in one country; the industrial sector in China. Overall, China’s energy consumption accounts for approximately 53% of East Asia’s total energy consumption with the exception of Japan. In 2001, China accounted for 9.8% of world energy consumption. By 2025, projections indicate that China will be responsible for approximately 14.2% of world energy consumption.

China suffers from major energy-related environmental problems. According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities are in China. The country’s heavy use of unwashed coal leads to large emissions of SO2 and particulate matter. China also is important to any effort to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, as it is projected to experience the largest absolute growth in CO2 emissions between now and the year 2020.

With 12.7% of the world’s total, China is the second largest emitter of energy-related CO2 emissions after the US. China’s share of world carbon emissions is expected to increase in coming years, reaching 17.8% by 2025. Carbon mitigation strategies are focusing on technologies to reduce emissions from industrial boilers and motors. Other mitigation efforts emphasise improving Chinese vehicles’ efficiency. Estimates suggest that transportation sector energy consumption could grow by nearly 7% per year as the government pledges major investments in the country’s transportation infrastructure. If this growth is not accompanied by improvements in vehicular fuel- efficiency standards and a replacement of outdated technology, carbon emissions from the transportation sector will grow significantly.

Overall, total Chinese energy-related carbon emissions more than doubled since 1980, when the government began implementing energy conservation laws. One study attempting to determine the causes of this increase concluded that China’s decrease in energy intensity since 1980 has not been sufficient to counterbalance the large increase in emissions due to economic and population growth. Increased energy demand has encouraged China to accelerate the development of cleaner fuels such as natural gas, coalbed methane and hydropower. Current efforts by China to offset coal consumption include the development of natural gas and coalbed methane infrastructure, increasing the number of combined heat and power plants, adding approximately 3,000 MW of hydropower annually, and developing renewable energy resources such as wind and photovoltaics for electricity generation.

China is a non-Annex I country under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, meaning that it has not agreed to binding targets for reduction of CO2 emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. While the Chinese government is concerned with its environmental problems, it tends to be more concerned with local problems, such as particulate matter and SO2 emissions. Thus, it is undertaking efforts to lessen emissions of pollutants such as SO2 and nitrogen oxide, through improved pollution controls on power plants as well as policies designed to increase the share of natural gas in the country’s fuel mix, particularly around major metropolitan areas.

New laws establishing comprehensive regulations have begun to curb this environmental damage. On the national level, policies are formulated by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and approved by the State Council. The role of SEPA, which was established in 1998, is to disseminate national environmental policy and regulations, collect data and provide technological advice on both national and international environmental issues.

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