The China syndrome, INDC and greenhouse emissions

The UN wants Greece to subsidize China and Saudi Arabia by contributing to a $100 billion green climate fund. Serbia wants $5 billion from the fund and in return promises to do nothing.

Chinese air pollution, worst in the world, as seen from space in 2009. Credit/Wikipedia

AUSTIN, July 15, 2015 — Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is the United Nation’s term to describe what each nation promises to do about its greenhouse gas emissions. Those promises are to be finalized in a Paris climate agreement this December.

China finally submitted its INDC on June 30. All INDCs were supposed to have been submitted by March 30. China’s INDC, and others, display the shortcomings of UN efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

China, the world’s largest polluter, produces nearly one-third of the world’s greenhouse emissions. China burns half the world’s coal. What China does determines whether meaningful emissions reductions can be achieved.

The Paris climate summit, called COP 21, is widely considered a last ditch effort to get a serious climate change agreement signed before it’s too late to prevent a 2°C global temperature rise. UN experts believe that 2°C above 1880 temperatures is the tipping point at which irreversible climate change occurs. The earth today is about 1°C above 1880, with emissions rising exponentially.

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Paris has two primary goals:

  1. Fashion INDCs into national commitments for reducing global emissions;
  2. Establish a $100 billion/year Green Climate Fund.

The second item is tied to the first. The developed nations are obligated to contribute $100 billion/year into a fund to pay for the climate damages they caused. The INDCs of poorer, emerging nations include estimates of what they need to mitigate climate change damages caused by the developed nations’ emissions.

For example, UN-defined developed nations Greece and Liechtenstein are obligated to contribute to the $100 billion/year fund. UN-defined emerging nations China and Saudi Arabia can draw from that fund to pay for climate change damages.

Yes — Greece, an economic basket case, may have to pay money to China, the world’s 2nd largest economy and biggest greenhouse gas offender, to help China clean up its act.

In its INDC, China insists that the Green Climate Fund be made legally binding in the Paris agreement.

With that in mind, here is what China promises to do by 2030:

  • Cap carbon dioxide emissions by 2030;
  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions per GDP by 60-65 percent below 2005 level;
  • Increase non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20 percent;
  • Increase forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters above 2005 levels.

Unlike all other nations, China doesn’t promise to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions at all. China promises it will continue pumping unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere until 2030 when, hopefully, they will level off. By then it will probably produce 40 percent of the world’s emissions.

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By stark contrast, the 28 nations of the EU collectively promise to reduce their emissions to “at least” 40 percent below 1990 levels. The United States promises to reduce its emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Those aren’t empty promises.

As of 2013, the EU had already slashed carbon emissions 18 percent below its 1990 level. The United States has cut its emissions 10 percent since 2005. Both are on their way to realistically meeting their real-world reduction commitments.

Since 1990 China has increased its greenhouse emission by 305 percent; since 2005 China has increased its emissions by 72 percent, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

China’s other promises are not much better.

Under the banner of “carbon efficiency,” China is reducing its carbon dioxide emissions per GDP. According to The Shift Project data, China is slightly behind meeting its goal, but it’s possible that it will reach it.

However, even if China meets its most optimistic projection by 2030, it will still take 2.5 times more energy to produce a unit of GDP growth than it does today for the United States and most other industrialized nations.

China’s promise to raise non-fossil primary energy consumption to 20 percent is unrealistic.

China primary energy consumption in 2012. Credit: U.S. EIA
China primary energy consumption in 2012. Credit: U.S. EIA

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, China got 91 percent of its primary energy from fossil fuels and 9 percent from non-fossil sources in 2012.

China will have to raise its non-fossil fuels percentage by 11 in just 18 years, while simultaneously supplying all the new energy needed to support a growing economy.

According to China’s INDC, it will supply two-thirds of its new renewable energy from hydroelectric dams. When completed, these dams will exploit most of China’s remaining hydro resources.

U.S. Primary energy consumption by type, 1980-2040. Credit: EIA 2015 Annual Report
U.S. Primary energy consumption by type, 1980-2040. Credit: EIA 2015 Annual Report

For all the hundreds of billions in public and private investments poured into green energy projects in the United States since 1990, U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data up through 2013 and forecasts show that renewable energy usage, including biofuels, will increase by just 3 percent in 50 years from 1990 to 2040.

How can China do three times better than that in just 18 years? That’s unlikely, if not impossible.

It’s good that China is planting more trees, but trees are carbon neutral and will not reduce emissions.

Serbia’s INDC

China isn’t the only country to submit a subpar INDC. Serbia’s says it will reduce its emissions to 9.8 percent below 1990 levels and identifies $5 billion in climate damages already suffered, mostly from drought.

Serbia is already 28 percent below its 1990 greenhouse emissions, according to Global Carbon Project data. In other words, Serbia commits to do nothing to reduce emissions and seeks to collect $5 billion from the Green Climate Fund. The UN’s latest report says that global warming has not yet increased droughts or their severity.

The EU and the United States are examples of governments serious about reducing emissions. China and Serbia are examples of scam artists after a cut of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund.

More INDCs resemble China’s and Serbia’s than resemble those of the European Union and the United States.

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