Economic success story has been driven by investment in high carbon sectors such as cement and steel, find researchers
By Megan Darby
China has the highest carbon emissions of any country in the world. As its economy grows, so does the threat to the climate.
Beijing has promised to change that, reshaping its economy so it is less dependent on carbon-intensive industries.
The government has committed to cut carbon intensity – the level of emissions for each unit of economic growth – 45% from 2005 levels by 2020.
But research published in Nature Climate Change shows carbon intensity rose 3% between 2002 and 2009.
Cuts achieved by installing more energy efficient equipment were outweighed by growth in energy-intensive industries such as metal smelting and cement production, the researchers found.
Lead author Dabo Guan, professor of climate economics at the University of East Anglia, said: “Capital investment creates a market demand for the large-scale production expansion of cement, steel and other highly emission-intensive processed materials, and the associated electricity generation to support their production.
“China’s national government sets both climate and economic targets and uses these criteria in evaluating performances and promotion of local government leaders. Among the two targets, GDP always comes as a priority.”
Performance across the country varied, with wealthy coastal regions and industrialised inland regions making the biggest improvements.
Inner Mongolia achieved an 18% carbon intensity cut, while in the poorer province of Guizhou it rose by 27%.
More recent data suggests the trend has turned in the right direction. Official Chinese statistics for the first half of 2014 show a 5% carbon intensity cut.
But Guan warned this could be a temporary lull if China continues to rely on investment in high emitting sectors to drive its economy.
“China needs to look to its recent past and appreciate that substantial capital projects – even more efficient ones – won’t help it achieve its commitment to reduced emissions,” he said.