China Leads in Carbon Emissions, Lags in Data Transparency

The Guardian reports and illustrates new data on global carbon emissions which shows China pulling further ahead of the US, almost offsetting the expected dip in emissions caused by the global recession.

While US emissions fell substantially in 2009, to levels not seen since 1995-96, China surged ahead with an increase of more than 13% on the previous year – the equivalent of adding the yearly emissions of Germany, Greece and Peru combined ….

The map reveals how heavily future emissions trends depend on China, which overtook the US as the world’s biggest emitter in 2006-07. China’s emissions have so far risen just as fast as its runaway economic growth, but the government is hoping to “decouple” the two in the next decade, reducing the country’s emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Doing so will be essential if global greenhouse gas emissions are to fall in line with scientific warnings.

But green campaigners want to stop western companies using the focus on China and their own falling output as an excuse for backpedalling on climate change. They have urged governments in developed countries to strengthen their emissions targets to prevent businesses from taking what would amount to an “emissions holiday”.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs has published a new Air Quality Transparency Index together with the Renmin School of Law. Beijing-based doctoral student Angel Hsu writes:

Building off of similar indices aimed to gauge the availability and access of environmental information, such as the Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI), the AQTI’s aim is to compare the transparency of air quality information in 20 Chinese cities and 10 international cities, mainly from North America and Europe.

The AQTI is significant start in providing greater and much needed context for air quality data in China, which have often been criticized for being confusing and misleading at times. Moreover, international agencies such as the World Bank has reported harrowing statistics suggesting China is home to some of the post polluted cities in the world. While reports like these do point to the serious environmental and health hazards caused by air pollution in many Chinese cities, it is important to note that international scrutiny of China’s air quality data would not even be possible of China didn’t make the data publicly accessible in the first place.

Of the Chinese cities included, only Beijing manages to scrape past New Delhi, ranked 10th and last among the international cities. Mexico City, in 9th place, lies some way ahead. Nevertheless, Beijing might take some comfort in a record streak of Blue Sky Days, surpassing even the two long periods in summer 2008 when authorities implemented exceptional anti-pollution measures to coincide with the Olympics.