Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.

Food for Thought Review: The Gigatonne Gap in China’s CO2 Inventories.
by Mya Goschalk

‘Food for Thought’ is a weekly discussion group led by PhD students, the first of which was Soren Lindner who wrote an influential research paper on the gap between China’s officially stated CO2 emissions, and the reality. They came to the conclusion that China released 1.4 gigatonnes of CO2 emission higher than officially stated by the government, which amounts to 5% of global output. When prompted to make a press statement on these findings, the Chinese climate minister suggested that we should to look at historic accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere from industrialised nations such as the UK.

This ‘gap’ in the data has been explained by problems in methods of collection by the Chinese government. The national bureau of statistics develops surveys for households and industries which is then conducted by the local authorities in thirty provinces. The report found that the biggest gap is from misreporting in raw oil consumption, and that yearly data shows this gap getting bigger since 1997. Soeren put forward two main reasons for this discrepancy. The first is the fact that in the last ten years the big industries came together to form industrial parks whilst the smaller firms relocated to less developed provinces which lack some of the institutional resources to record correctly. The second main reason is that there is competition between the provinces as they are competing for growth. Each province over-reports regional GDP, which in order to fit the data means that energy data also needs to be over-reported. In contrast, national data is under-reported in order to please the international community.

What becomes increasingly important now, are the implications of this ‘gap.’ Firstly, within China there is a plan for an emission trading scheme between provinces, but in order for this to be established there must be reliable data. Secondly, for countries in the West this has a large effect on trying to calculate their own carbon footprints when taking imports into account, as the data on the production side will be incorrect. And finally, arguably most importantly, is the effect that these huge uncertainties will have on climate models.

It is clear that what must be done now is to look for solutions to avoid these discrepencies, and make it increasingly aware that this type of CO2 ‘gap’ may also be occurring in other countries.

Food for Thought Week 2’s topic will be ‘Shallow Geothermal Systems for Space Heating and Cooling’ – Denis Garber, PhD Student, Energy Efficient Cities Initiative. Wednesday 17th October, Wordsworth Room, St. John’s, 1pm-2pm. The talk will start at about 1:10 so don’t worry if you’re a little late. Bring your lunch and munch as you listen, then we’ll have a relaxed discussion/Q&A session. We hope to see you there!