Uncertainties

There are significant uncertainties with regard to estimates of Chinese emissions of heat-trapping gases. Although China’s data collection systems have improved enormously in the past decade, those systems are not as developed or transparent as such systems in many industrialized countries. In addition, some Chinese data may have systematic reporting biases. Provincial economic and energy data may reflect promotion criteria for provincial officials, which have traditionally weighted hitting GDP targets heavily. China’s National Bureau of Statistics has revised its estimates of coal consumption and other energy data several times in the past few years, with significant implications for emissions estimates.[32]

Analysis of these topics in the peer-reviewed literature has grown in recent years.

  • In 2012, a paper in Nature found a 1.4 Gt gap between China’s CO2 emissions when calculated based on two different sets of official statistics (national and provincial). As the authors note, 1.4 Gt is roughly equal to annual CO2 emissions from Japan.[33]
  • In 2015, a paper in Nature concluded that previous estimates of Chinese carbon dioxide emissions may have been overstated by roughly 10%, due mainly to errors estimating emissions factors for Chinese coal.[34]
  • A 2015 Science article highlighted China’s unique method for estimating percentages of nonfossil energy.[35]
  • A 2016 Nature paper raised questions about previous estimates of a drop in Chinese coal use and related reductions in emissions.[36]
  • A 2018 Nature article found uncertainties in China’s 2015 emissions estimates of −16% to 25% at a 97.5% confidence level.[37]

Improving climate data systems is a goal of the Chinese government. In 2014, the National Bureau of Statistics and National Development and Reform Commissions (NDRC) established a 23-member Leading Group on Climate Statistics and launched “climate change statistical practice pilots” in 15 provinces. The State Council’s Work Plan for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the 13th Five-Year Plan (October 2016) directs provinces and municipalities to “strengthen statistical work on climate change,” “improve the greenhouse gas emission measurement and monitoring system” and “promote greenhouse gas emissions data disclosure.” The Chinese government’s First Biennial Update Report and NDRC’s China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (2016) explain the work underway in these areas in some detail.[38]

Many organizations publish data on Chinese emissions of heat-trapping gases.

  • The Chinese government provides official emissions estimates for all heat-trapping gases in its Biennial Update Reports to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.[39]
  • Chinese government agencies, including the National Bureau of Statistics, publish estimates of fossil fuel use, electricity consumption and other economic activity, in some cases as often as monthly. The China Electricity Council publishes estimates on these topics as well. English translations of this material are often provided on China Energy Portal. These data and other information are used by experts around the world to estimate Chinese emissions.[40]
  • Among the organizations that publish information on Chinese emissions are the International Energy Agency, EC Joint Research Centre, BP, Climate Action Tracker, Global Carbon Project, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s China Energy Group, Climate Watch (a partnership managed by World Resources Institute) and Enerdata. Estimates from these organizations vary in scope.
    • PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and Climate Action Tracker publish estimates of emissions of all heat-trapping gases.[41]
    • The EC Joint Research Center’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) publishes estimates of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes (including the manufacture of cement, steel and chemicals).[42]
    • The Global Carbon Project publishes estimates of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and the cement industry.[43]
    • The International Energy Agency and BP publish estimates of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.[44]

The table below summarizes recent emissions estimates by some leading organizations.

 

Figure 1-10

References


[32] See Jan Ivar Korsbakken, Robbie Andrew and Glen Peters, “China’s CO2 emissions grew slower than expected 2018,” Carbon Brief (May 3, 2019) (discussing 2018 data challenges); People’s Republic of China, Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2018) at p.22; Derek Scissors, “China’s Economic Statistics Means Everything and Nothing,” Newsweek (May 24, 2016).

[33] Dabo Guan et al., “The Gigatonne Gap in China’s Carbon Dioxide Inventories,” Nature Climate Change (2012) pp.672–675.

[34] Zhu Liu et al., “Reduced carbon emission estimates from fossil fuel combustion and cement production in China,” Nature (August 20, 2015) at p.2.

[35] Joanna Lewis et al., “Understanding China’s non-fossil energy targets,” Science (November 27, 2015).

[36] Jan Ivar Korsbakken et al., “Uncertainties around reductions in China’s coal use and CO2 emissions” (February 16, 2016) at p.1.

[37] Yuli Shan et al., “China CO2 emission accounts 1997–2015,” Nature (2018). See also Teng Fei, “Carbon: resolve ambiguities in China’s emissions,” Nature (2015); Teng Fei and Zhu Songli, “Which estimation is more accurate? A technical comments on Nature Paper by Liu et al on overestimation of China’s emission,” Sci. Technol. Rev. (2015) at pp.112–116.

[38] State Council, “Work Plan for Controlling Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the 13th Five-Year Plan” (October 27, 2016); PRC, “First Biennial Update Report” (December 2016) at pp.97–108; NDRC, “China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change” (2017) at pp.51–54.

[39] People’s Republic of China, Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2016); People’s Republic of China, Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2018).

[40] See National Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Bulletin on National Economic and Social Development in 2018 (February 28, 2019); China Electricity Council—Data/Statistics; China Energy Portal.

[41] J. Olivier and J. Peters, Trends in Global CO2 and Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 2018 Report, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment; Climate Action Tracker—China.

[42] EC Joint Research Centre, Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries (November 2018).

[43] Corinne Le Quéré, Global Carbon Budget (December 12, 2018).

[44] IEA, Global Energy and CO2 Status Report 2018 (March 2019); BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 (June 2019).

[45] People’s Republic of China, First Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2016) at p.22; People’s Republic of China, Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2018) at p.16.

[46] People’s Republic of China, First Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2016); People’s Republic of China, Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change (December 2018).

[47] J. Olivier and J. Peters, Trends in Global CO2 and Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions: 2018 Report, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment at p.23.

[48] Climate Action Tracker—China.

[49] EC Joint Research Centre, Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries (November 2018) at p.67; EC Joint Research Centre, Fossil CO2 emissions of all world countries (November 2017).

[50] Corinne Le Quéré, Global Carbon Budget (December 12, 2018) (2018 National Emissions Excel file)

[51] IEA, Global Energy and CO2 Status Report 2018 (March 2019); IEA, CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion (2018) at p.82; IEA, CO2Emissions from Fuel Combustion (2017)

[52] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 (June 2019).

[53] Enerdata, Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2019-China (accessed August 10, 2019)

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