Monday, August 24, 2009

China's Plan

Chris Buckley reported (in Reuters last week) that top policy advisers in China have recommended “firm targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions so they peak around 2030” in their “2050 China Energy and C02 Emissions Report”. It would be a big step forward if China’s political leadership were to accept the principle of firm targets over the current commitment to simply improve energy intensity without reference to the growth of GDP. They will only do so, if the authors of this report can convince them that low carbon pathways are compatible with China’s growth targets. Be that as it may, a look at the recommended targets themselves is sobering when you translate them into stabilization levels of atmospheric CO2. The report projects Chinese output of CO2 in 2050 as 3.47 gigatons of Carbon on a business as usual model. The alternative low carbon path puts output at 2.41 GtC. Finally the authors pose an “enhanced” low carbon path that generates 1.4 GtC. So far so good. But now consider the following calculus: it has been generally thought that to stabilize at 450ppm, world CO2 output needs to be reduced from current levels to 18 GtCO2 or 4.9 GtC. Assume we were to do that on the basis of an equal per capita share based on the projected world population in 2050 – roughly 9 billion people. China has declared a goal of a stable population of 1.6 billion which is 17.7% of 9 billion. On an equal share per capita, its allocation would thus be .87 GtC – far below its enhanced low carbon path. What happens if you run the argument in reverse? If you start with the enhanced low carbon path of 1.4 GtC as an equal per capita allocation of 17.7% of the population, that gives you an equivalent world output of 9 GtC (33 GTCo2) – which is more than our current output which we know to be unsustainable! Are U.S. plans much better? Assume the U.S. stabilizes at 350 million in 2050 or 3.89% of the world population. Then its allocation will be .186 GtC which would be roughly equivalent to a 90% reduction over 2006 output levels.

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