China's Efforts to Cut Carbon Emissions Hampered by Economic Boom

Oct 07, 2014 07:41 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

China's efforts to reduce its carbon emissions are being hampered by its rampant economic expansion, according to a new study at the University of East Anglia.

The study, published this week in Nature Climate Change, says that even though a number of significant advancements have been made to cut the country's CO2 emissions, expansions of the economy has actually led to a growth in CO2-emitting activities like mining, metal smelting, and coal-fired electricity generation, which undoes any progress made.

China increased its carbon intensity by 3 percent during a period of unprecedented economic growth, according to the study. This occurred despite its pledge to reduce carbon intensity by around 45 percent by 2020.

There were wide variations reported between China's 30 provinces, according to the study. The less economically advantaged province of Guizhou achieved a 98 percent gain in carbon efficiency, but concurrent production increases led to a 125 percent efficiency loss. The net carbon efficiency of the province dropped by 27 percent.

The most improved sections of the country were the heavily industrialized inland regions and the economically advanced coastal areas.

China burned over half the world's coal for energy, according to Greenpeace in a 2009 report. In 2012, Beijing, experienced 2,589 deaths and a loss of over $328 million due to air pollution.

Being in Beijing when the smog is at its heaviest is equal to smoking 21 cigarettes, according to The Asahi Shimbum. This has caused government officials to stress to citizens how important it is that everyone wear protective masks.

"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," said Professor Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at UEA's School of International Development, according to the Inquisitr.

"The efficiency improvements are largely due to diminishing investments in emission-intensive industries, but this could be a temporary lull if China cannot decouple its economic growth with emission-intensive capital investments," Guan added. "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."

Guan added that China's air isn't the only environmental factor at risk in the world's most populated country. Guan said that the country's economic boom has impacted its water supply to a point that 75 percent of China's lakes. At least 50 percent of its ground water is contaminated.

"Urban household consumption, export of goods and services, and infrastructure investment are the main factors contributing to accumulated water pollution since 2000," said Guan. "Although China has taken steps to improve its water consumption and pollution is decreasing, it needs to tackle the cumulative pollution - triggered by manufacturing and capital investments - which is a key element of its water crisis."

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