China’s emissions outsourcing threatens climate goals

By John Parnell 

China’s climate targets are being threatened as emissions outsourcing distorts the country’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, researchers have claimed.

Rich coastal areas with tough climate objectives are driving industry inland. The consequence could be that emissions in total do not drop, despite the apparent success of schemes along the coast.

“China has set emissions targets which are more stringent in affluent coastal provinces than in less-developed interior provinces,” said Laixiang Sun from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the University of Maryland, who co-authored the study.

China’s industry, and its emissions, are being outsourced to rural provinces (Source: Flickr/lacitadelle)

“This may reduce emissions in one region, but in China as a whole, you find CO2 emissions continue to increase, because the polluting factories move into the less-developed regions,” he added.

By instead considering China’s emissions based on where they are consumed, Sun and his colleagues believe the country would have a better chance of hitting its objectives.

“Richer areas currently have much tougher targets, so it’s easier for them to just buy goods made elsewhere,” said Steve Davis, of the University of California Irvine, and a co-author of the study. “A nationwide target that tracks emissions embodied in trade would go a long way toward solving the problem. But that’s not what’s happening.”

China, the world’s largest emitter, has established seven pilot carbon trading schemes and has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity, the volume of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of GDP.

Sun warned that this could encourage some provinces to move industry into poorer areas, which could place an additional burden on those regions.

“We must reduce CO2 emissions, not just outsource them,” said Sun. “Developed regions and countries need to take some responsibility, providing technology support or investment to promote cleaner, greener technology in less-developed regions.”

The situation is a microcosm of the global state of affairs where manufacturing has largely shifted from developed to developing nations.

Consumption based emissions in many developed countries have risen in recent years even though their total emissions have fallen.

Calls for the UK to shift to consumption based emissions reporting were rejected by UK climate minister Greg Barker said switching from the current system could derail the process of finding a new global treaty on emissions reductions.

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