China's "Emission Cuts" Not What They Seem

By Paul Homewood


and make sure that the commitment of reducing CO2 emission per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 level is fulfilled

We often hear claims that China are moving much faster than the West in cutting emissions. For instance , John Gummer commented on the BBC’s Today programme a couple of weeks ago that “If you look at what China’s doing…China’s actually moving a lot faster than we are now, and it’s actually moving towards a peak in its emission in the mid, maybe even in the early, 2020s.”

And today, Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph tells us that “China is setting an example to the world on climate change”.

But what is the reality? Is China really going to start cutting emissions?  

In his speech to the Climate Change Conference, Xie Zhenhua, the head of their delegation in Warsaw reaffirmed China’s commitment to reducing emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020, from 2005 levels.

A cut of 40-45% certainly seems a good start, but is it all it appears? The key, of course, is that the cuts won’t be in actual emissions, only in relation to GDP. And as we all know China’s GDP has been going up in leaps and bounds in the last few years, as the graph below shows.


Wikipedia gives the comparative GDP numbers for 2005 and 2012, all at current prices, for China

US Dollars Trillion Renminbi Trillion
2005 2.257 18.493
2012 8.220 51.894
% Increase 364 281

The percentage increase is greater in dollars because the dollar has depreciated, so let’s work on the lower renminbi figures. Assuming an annual GDP increase of 8% between now and 2020, we would be looking at a GDP figure in 2020 of 96 trillion renminbi, again at today’s prices. This would be five times greater than 2005.

Now let’s look at CO2 emissions.

Million Tonnes Carbon Equivalent
2005 1579
2012 2625

Now we can crank some numbers out.

Assuming China maintains CO2 emissions per unit of GDP at 2005 levels, their emissions in 2020 would be:

(96 / 18 ) x 1579 = 8421 million tonnes.


Now, reduce this figure by 40%, and we get:

8421 x 0.6 = 5052 million tonnes.

So, far from cutting emissions, China’s “commitment” boils down to nearly doubling their emissions by 2020.

It does not seem such a good deal after all, does it?

The Chinese, of course, have been totally transparent about all of this. But don’t believe the likes of John Gummer when they try and keep these facts from you.


Just to put the China numbers into perspective, their current emissions are 27% of the global figure, so a doubling would add another quarter.

Such an increase would be one and a half times the combined emissions of the whole of the EU, Russia and the rest of Europe and Eurasia.

All of this rather begs the question – if CO2 is really such a problem, why are not the UN, Greenpeace, UNFCC, Western politicians, activist scientists and all the other hangers on jumping up and down and demanding that China starts making real cuts now?


If you run the above calculations through with the 2012 figures, you find that China has already achieved its target of a 40% reduction

Assuming China maintains the same emissions per unit of GDP between 2005 and 2012, emissions in 2012 would be:

(51894/18496) x 1579 = 4430

Actual emissions were 2625, which represents a cut of 41% from 4430


It is hardly surprising, therefore, that China can confidently promise cuts of 40 to 45%. They have already achieved them.

The implication, therefore, is that emissions will, from now on, carry on increasing in line with GDP, which is on track for an 8% increase this year. If annual increases continue at this sort of level, a not unreasonable scenario, GDP would have nearly doubled over 2012 levels by 2020.


Update 2


Please note “thousand tonnes” should have read “million tonnes”. Now amended.



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There are lies, damned lies and………………….


Another hockey stick? See the two graphs.

“Per capita CO2 Emission Estimates for the People’s Republic of China”


On the flip side, haven’t US CO2 emissions already actually been substantially cut. Driving miles are down and natural gas replaced a lot of coal power generation.. I thought we were the only country to actually achieve the Kyoto targets.


Glad to see the Chinese still have a great sense of humor. The joke is on all the rest of the world.

Ashby Manson

I think one reason they have been building so many coal fired power plants is to make it easy to cut emissions by switching to natural gas or nuclear. Set the baseline nice and high.


Readers may find this Wikipedia table useful …
List of countries by ratio of GDP to carbon dioxide emissions

chris y

I think it should be Millions of tons of CO2, as in 2020 emissions may be 8421 Million tons of CO2.


tons of CO2 per unit of GDP– is not even clear. Is it nominal GDP, GDP expressed in purchasing power parity or it is GDP based on some constant base year. The way the US has been printing money, if and when the economic recovery takes place the global inflation could just skyrocket so nominal GDP will just skyrocket as well. Tons of carbon dioxide is a physical quantity while the divider which the US$ or another monetary value is a fiction based on the agreement of central bankers. Even if the economy becomes more energy inefficient and coal continues as the main source of energy, the carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP will still decrease. For example, at present one ton of carbon dioxide is released to produce goods that increase the GDP by a $100, if the manufacturing efficiency goes down by 10 per cent, then 1.1 tons of carbon dioxide will be generated to manufacture the same product. However, the additional value the same quantity of product to the GDP in nominal terms could be $120 so the carbon dioxide generation per GDP will be down but the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted has increased. At present China’s GDP in terms of purchasing power parity is much higher than the nominal GDP. As the Yuan and the Chinese economy matures plus the strong pressure from its trading partner for the Yuan to appreciate, the gap between nominal GDP and GDP (PPP) will decrease. China’s economic structure could also shift towards services that are more high paying such as banking and finance with very low energy needs. Without doing anything China could reduce its carbon emission per GDP radically ( might even be as high as 90). However, we should not blame China for making such an assertion. China is just playing by the rule of the game. Tons of carbon dioxide per GDP or tons equivalent of coal per GDP or barrels of oil equivalent per GDP is what is normally called energy intensity of the economy and almost used world wide. Developed countries seems to be using the same strategy. Heavy industries that very energy intensive goes to third world countries while high paying jobs that may create wealth with low energy requirements stays in the City or Wall Street.


Speed: “Readers may find this Wikipedia table useful …”
Not really. The other two choices to present aren’t as prone to nonsense:


What if China’s economy were really a Ponzi? How would we know? People are talking about it. I’ve suspected it for a long time. Burdens like carbon compliance and faith based banking are at odds with each other. Something else to think about as we watch BO take down the US economy.


Here’s the EIA co2 emissioin numbers for OECD and non OECD from 1990 to 2011.,CG5,&syid=1990&eyid=2011&unit=MMTCD
OECD (developed) 1990 —11.6 bn T 2011 —13 bn T. An increase in just 1.4 bn T pa in 21 years . Non OECD ( developing China, India etc) 1990 —-10 bn T 2011 —-19.6 bn T. An increase of 9.6 bn T pa in 21 years.
All individual countries co2 emissions pa are available at the link.

“jumping up and down and demanding that China starts making real cuts now?”
The CDIAC site you cited also has per capita figures for 2010:
China 1.68 ton C/cap/yr, USA 4.71, Australia 4.57, Qatar 10.9.
CO2 needs a world effort. We can’t expect people to respond differently just because of the size of the political unit they happen to live in. China has a big population and will have a big GDP. The best we can do is to ensure that the GDP is achieved as efficiently as possible. We can’t expect Chinese to respond to Westerners pressuring them to cut in absolute terms when Westerners are using more than twice as much.
“But don’t believe the likes of John Gummer…”
In your quote Gummer expected Chinese emissions to peak about 2025. You attempted to refute that by saying that they would be emitting more in 2020 that now. That does not refute.
“Actual emissions were 2625, which represents a cut of 41% from 4430”
Well, then, they are indeed doing well.


It was the 10% cut in US Co2 emissions that stalled Global Warming.

William McClenney

Ah, but the latent question is: how does it feel to have been played?


Her are the EIA co2 emission forecast until 2040— see graph. The OECD emissions will essentially flatline for 30 years while non OECD emissions will continue to soar.
They say that fully 94% of extra co2 emissions will come from China ,India etc and only 6% from the OECD until 2040.
The entire OECD could retire and live in caves and it wouldn’t make ZIP difference at all to climate and temp.


Neville – Have we learned anything yet about models and forecasts.

Gary Hladik

Out of curiosity, is China actually doing anything to really cut CO2 emissions, in addition to replacing old coal power plants with new, and building nuclear power plants?


John I don’t understand your point? China in 1990 2.2 bn T and China in 2011 8.7bn T pa or nearly a 400% INCREASE IN JUST 21 YEARS.


Using RMB is equally deceptive cos it has appreciated by a lot since 2005. Is there a comparison in material terms instead of using currency?
And why is using GDP a problem? Ideally every human is entitled to enjoying the same resource although in effect we have a long way to go to make that a reality if ever.
Are we promoting penality on countries with larger population by comparing total emmisions?
Are we capping development of developing countries so that they can never challenge the league of rich countries who could forever enjoy more resources?
In the wild we have altha male, in politics we have altha country, in scientific review we have altha peer. All grap a bigger bite through bullying.


Although I agree with the math that China is currently greatly increasing CO2 emissions/ due to opening up about 2~3 new coal-fired plants PER WEEK to keep up with energy demands from a growing economy. One wild-card element to this equation is China’s LFTR development.
I recently learned from a WUWT commenter that China will have a 2 Megawatt test LFTR go on line from around June of 2015, which means China is much further along with its LFTR development than originally thought.

At this pace, China could have 50~100 Megawatt LFTRs designed by 2025 and then it’s just a matter of refining the design, leading to replacement of coal-fired plants with LFTRs at a quick pace from around 2030~35. Once LFTRs are built on a large scale, China’s CO2 emissions will drop precipitously thereafter.
Why is the West wasting so much money on solar/wind alternative energy, CO2 taxes, 3rd-world wealth redistribution of CO2 tax revenues, etc. when a “solution” to cutting CO2 already exists. Had all these wasted funds been used to develop LFTRs, the whole Global Warming hoax would be de facto moot anyway….
Even if the West FINALLY gets it head out of its nether region, and starts developing LFTRs, it’ll take 10 years of EPA regulations/mandates/hearings/compliance costs/bureaucratic red tape to get approval per LFTR building site…. How do Western governments expect to compete with China when their “approval” process takes 10 days…..
Oh, the irony…. China is moving (slowly) to free-market capitalism, while the West is moving towards Socialism/Communism….
Politicians are insane idiots.

Mike Smith

China is an interesting case. There must be a huge interest in reducing pollution, by which I mean particulate matter, carcinogens, toxic materials etc.
I doubt that the Chinese give a hoot about CO2 but, of course, their politicians will make all of the right noises to appease the west since they’re rather tired of playing the western world’s punching bag. I think the “China reassures world” article is fine example of same.


China is always excused by Green alarmists: those poor communist underdogs. The US are the main target: those wicket ultra rich top dogs. Dawn facts and statistics. Viewing the world through green coloured glasses damages the world’s environment the most.

Dr. Bob

At the 2007 Pittsburgh Coal Conference, I remember a poster session on coal seam fires In China, coal seam fires emit more CO2 than all the cars in the US. A little searching indicated that 20-200 million tons of coal per year are lost to mine fires. The number is very vague as no one really knows how much coal is lost to mine fires. CO2 emissions from these sources are probably not counted in net emissions but represent maybe 12% of China’s GHG emissions.
If GHG emissions are truly a threat to mankind, why haven’t the NGO’s gone after this source of uncontrolled emissions? If CO2 was a real problem, this would be the low hanging fruit. But no one mentions this

Karl W. Braun

Here’s a carbon reduction those in the ‘climate change’ community would die for:

Les Johnson

US emissions are the lowest in absolute terms, in 18 years.
In per capita terms, US emissions are at 1964 levels.

Les Johnson
Chris Nelli

Funny how there is no mention that China’s emissions are now 2x that of the US. In fact, in about 30 years, China will exceed the US in cumulative emissions since 1800.


Mike– I sometimes travel to China on business and I can attest the air quality in major cities is terrible. They don’t utilize coal-plant scrubbers to remove REAL pollutants (who cares about CO2) so tremendous amounts of SO2, O3, NO2, soot, etc., are just blasted into the atmosphere resulting in severe health problems; it’s atrocious.
China’s magic bullet to solve its energy/pollution problems are LFTRs and I’m sure that they’ll be successful with that approach. It would be great if the Chinese would address the severe pollution problems they’re currently facing with their coal-fired plants, but as long as their LFTR program is moving forward successfully, they feel it makes more economic sense to spend money on solving the long-term problem with LFTRs rather than divert limited resources to solve the “short-term” (20~30 years) problem of coal-fired plant pollution.
The West made this same choice in the 1970’s and implemented strict air/water/soil pollution standards, which lead to a 90% reduction of many major pollutants between 1980 and 2012.
Chinese history (The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square comes to mind) shows the Chinese Government is willing to sacrifice 50 million souls to achieve a long-term end (very Machiavellian) and their pollution policy is simply a manifestation of that underlying “ends justifies the means” mentality….
In the interim, China will simply promise the West anything and do pretty much as they please. The big difference this time is that the growing middle-class taxpayer base is starting to get restless about the pollution problem with some pollution riots/protests springing up around China.
At some point, social unrest from all the awful pollution may incur a negative economic effect, which may force China to implement stricter pollution standards and invest the necessary funds on coal-plant scrubbers, prior to LFTRs being rolled out.
As always, it’ll be a decision based on cost/benefit analysis and not a moral choice…

David L. Hagen

China’s coal fired electricity generation was an enormous 15% below that of Japan in 2003. So it is eager to improve its efficiency to become internationally competitive and reduce its rapidly growing coal imports. – And gain international “brownie” points for its very capitalistic “green” efforts.
Comparison of Efficiency Generation


The best lesson we can learn from China is to not be shackled as the slave to political correctness and fad science.



Although I agree with the math that China is currently greatly increasing CO2 emissions/ due to opening up about 2~3 new coal-fired plants PER WEEK to keep up with energy demands from a growing economy.

Did you see this article on JoNova?


The Chinese are trying 100 times as hard as me to get their carbon emissions down.


Nick Stokes says:
November 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm
“We can’t expect Chinese to respond to Westerners pressuring them to cut in absolute terms when Westerners are using more than twice as much.”
Of course we can’t and we don’t and we shouldn’t.
But it’s a neverending fun exposing our idiot journalists for the kind of kretins they are.


According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 –
Chinese emission of CO2 in 2012 were 9,208 million metric tonnes
easy to download the Excel data and graph it yourself.


Policycritic– Thank you very much for the JoNova link.
I was familiar with advances in high-pressure steam generators, but I had no idea China was so far ahead in this technology.
Not to sound like a broken record, but LFTRs use gas turbines instead of steam turbines, and can achieve temperatures of 1,200C at SINGLE atmospheric pressures. That’s a huge advantage in terms of safety/water conservation.
Moreover, the “waste” heat after LFTRs drive the gas turbines through a heat exchanger is still around 600~700C, which can be used to synthesize ethanol or jet fuel from CO2 and water…. So LFTRs can store energy during off-peak hours by producing ethanol as an additional revenue stream or it can be used to desalinate sea water; addressing another of man’s needs…
Not that it matters, but the production of ethanol from LFTRs will actually decrease atmospheric CO2 levels in the future….

I don’t believe government numbers at all, especially from China. I was in the US navy and we made up numbers all the time to get our quota of goods, etc. for the next go around.


I guess this one is aimed at Nick Stokes and any of the other leftist green equality junkies.
What I am curious about is why it develops into an emission per capita formula in your minds. No consideration of terrain, position and climate of the country just a per population stupidity equation.
Countries like Japan are severely disadvantaged by these sorts of equation because they have precious little land per population for all this green power that they are supposed to be charging headlong towards.
Looking at the world population density per country it is easy to see which countries will struggle and why.
Wiki even suggest perhaps better ways of doing this the most apt one is probably
Ecological optimum: The density of population which can be supported by the natural resources.
So I guess that’s the next argument of all the leftist greenies we need to balance out the world’s population to the ecological optimum it’s obvious in their political agenda.


If CO2 per unit of GDP is to0 be the measure – then the US probably looks pretty good as do most developed countries.

ref: “In his speech to the Climate Change Conference, Xie Zhenhua, the head of their delegation in Warsaw reaffirmed…”
Does Xie even believe in AGW? (in 2010 he said)
China has ‘open mind’ about cause of climate change – Telegraph
“China’s most senior climate change official surprised a summit in India when he questioned whether global warming is caused by carbon gas emissions and said Beijing is keeping an “open mind”.
“There are disputes in the scientific community. We have to have an open attitude to the scientific research. There’s an alternative view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself. We have to keep an open attitude,” he said. – Telegraph, 23th January 2010
Climate change: Chinese adviser calls for open mind on causes – Guardian Jan 2010
“China’s most senior negotiator on climate change says more research needed to establish whether warming is man-made”
China’s most senior negotiator on climate change said today he was keeping an open mind on whether global warming was man-made or the result of natural cycles.
Xie Zhenhua said there was no doubt that warming was taking place, but more and better scientific research was needed to establish the causes”
– Guardian Jan 2010


I am a pragmatist like most physicists/engineers so the question to you is why pick GDP? See the question I am probing is how people judge “fair”?
For my part I am a pragmatist and I don’t think their will be a political solution to climate change (and yes I believe it exists but probably at the lower end of projections). I think more money should being spent on climate engineering because I think it is inevitable that is the only real solution because there will always be countries who view that they are unfairly targeted by emission control schemes. I don’t see anyway you are going to get an agreement up which the whole world would agree with on a problem with hundreds of years timespan.
There is also a problem of personal view, locally we had a push to change planning laws to not allow buildings near coastal areas. Many individuals push back against this because the problem occurs at greater than 100 year timeframes and someone might actually not care about 100 years from now they will be long dead and simply want to have an ocean view now. It comes down to that problem who can guarantee anything on 100 year timeframe. Ask people who once had quiet rural holdings now only to be surrounded by suburbia or have major airports flight paths directly over them or large power lines traversing their once pristine country views what can happen in 100 years.

John Law

It’s a sad day when the leaders of the Peoples Republic of China, have more credibility than the members of the Mother of Parliaments!
Gummer is one of the worst examples of dishonesty and “troughing” in the UK.


If China is going to spend any money on pollution mitigation, it will be on coal plant scrubbers, whose emissions are costing China itself in the near term, and causing it to lose face internationally. Money for CO2 mitigation will have to wait in line until that’s done.


Nick Stokes says:
November 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm
Well at least you admit that global warming and CO2 reductions isn’t a pressing matter and can be held off for at least a good 20-50 years.

Or as Confucius said…
“Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.”

Brian H

Skim milk masquerades as cream …. ♪♫♪

Peter Miller

When I recently went to southern China on business, I was amazed to see so many road signs in English and Chinese. One of the most common signs was “Foggy Area”, which actually meant beware of smog.
The Chinese have started cleaning up pollution and obviously still have a long way to go, but not once did I hear any concerns about climate change, but only of ensuring there was enough energy available.
Somehow China has managed to portray itself as the ‘good guy’ in cutting CO2 emissions, while simultaneously managing to demonise the western democracies for being selfish and not doing enough to help the kleptocracies of the Third World.
Ecoloons and the gullible buy the Chinese argument hook, line and sinker, but then again they also buy the arguments that CO2 is an evil gas and Thermageddon is imminent.


LdB says:
November 24, 2013 at 10:27 pm
“Ecological optimum: The density of population which can be supported by the natural resources.”
That won’t please the liberals in NYC and LA. (Or Hamburg or Berlin for that matter)


I suppose the instrument platform has to be the black and dark red building.

I agree with other commenters that Gummer is one of the most discredited politicians in the UK along with that other great trougher Tim Yeo. their interests in renewables leaves them hopelessly conflicted. They will be responsible for the loss of huge numbers of votes to UKIP who are the only party fighting this corruption.
I see truougher Yeo now has his offspring (don’t know whether it’s his official or illegitimate daughter) employed in the renewable propaganda now also.