China’s reported CO2 emissions show a 1.4 gigatonne (20%) discrepancy between national and provincial-level totals, a new study in Nature Climate Change reports. That is 5% of the global total and is equivalent to Japan’s annual CO2 emissions. It is due mainly to discrepancies in reporting of coal-related emissions. Accurate reporting of emissions is an important component of developing climate policy and implementing international agreements, we told Participant Media’s TakePart. And the US is not exempt from efforts to misrepresent climate-related data. The North Carolina legislature has taken up a bill to ban the use of scientific data on projected sea level rise in coastal planning decisions.
Full text of the new study reported in Nature Climate Change: The gigatonne gap in China’s carbon dioxide inventories, published online 10 June 2012
TakePart reported June 11:
Exactly How Much Carbon IsChinaEmitting Per Year?
The difference betweenChina’s actual and reported CO2 emissions may be significant.
… China’s carbon emissions could be 20 percent higher than previous estimates, the study suggests, indicating that climate change may be occurring at an even more rapid and dangerous pace than previously thought.
Authors analyzed data collected by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, and found discrepancies in the two publicly available datasets on energy consumption.
“The paper identifies a 1.4 billion tonne emission gap (in 2010) between the two datasets. This implies greater uncertainties than ever in Chinese energy statistics,” Dabo Guan, lecturer at Leeds University and a lead author of the paper, told Reuters.
The implications of this finding for global climate change are tremendous—the implications for policy perhaps even more so. The study’s authors warn that reliable national statistics are imperative for “global negotiations about future emission targets.”
Rather than addressing the inconsistencies in their data, the Chinese government earlier today argued that the climate crisis has been caused by developed nations, and that China has already taken appropriate steps to deal with climate change.
Obtaining accurate information on emissions isn’t just a problem inChina, experts say.
“Much of the world does not have in place the capabilities and procedures for accurately reporting emissions of greenhouse gases,” wrote Rick Piltz, the founder and director of Climate Science Watch, in an email to TakePart. “This is something that must be improved over time as one important component of developing climate policy and implementing international agreements.”
The study reported in Nature Climate Change documents discrepancies in China’s reporting of coal consumption between national totals and aggregated provincial totals, i.e., regional-level data appear to over-report, and/or national-level data appear to under-report coal cunsumption, and thereby the resulting carbon emissions. This research helps to quantify a phenomenon that we shouldn’t find surprising.
The authors note the lack of transparency in data collection, reporting, and validation. In addition, the authors suggest that the provincial-level officials may be under pressure to over-report economic production (and thus energy consumption) in order to meet political targets, while the national government may have a political incentive to under-report emissions in order to create a desired image of progress. So, what are the real numbers? All of this needs further analysis, and perhaps similar analysis could be done for other key countries.
This likely widespread problem should be an important agenda item in the climate treaty negotiations and in bilateral cooperation. But uncertainty about emissions data should not be allowed to stand in the way of taking strong measures on a clean energy transformation, and to strengthen preparedness to deal with global climtic disruption.
TakePart also raises issues of integrity in the use of climate-related data for decision support in the United States:
The U.S. is not exempt from these concerns, either. In fact, some politicians are taking steps to make it increasingly more difficult to collect sound information on climate change—even when that information might help their constituents adapt more effectively to extreme weather like heat waves, droughts, and storms.
The North Carolina legislature recently circulated a bill that would ban projections of sea level rise unless they were based on historic data rather than current climate indicators—in other words, the bill would have made it illegal for scientists to accurately predict how the warming of the planet would affect coastal communities in the state.
The North Carolina Senate Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources approved the bill, with some modifications, and the Senate is expected to take it up this week, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Late last year, Congress nixed a proposal by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create a National Climate Service that would organize and disseminate relevant information on climate change, and assist in the development of climate preparedness strategies. Ignoring wide-ranging support from businesses, nonprofit leaders, and scientists, Congress killed the proposal in a round of budget cuts.
The evidence of scientific research on the implications of global climatic disruption appears to pose an ideological or cultural threat to those who hold views that oppose proactive government problem-solving and the need for appropriate regulation. This leads them to deny or question the legitimacy of climate science. Global warming denialists typically call themselves ‘conservatives,’ but in fact their position leads them toward radical positions, such as the proposal in North Carolina, that would threaten their own communities by undermining intelligent steps toward adaptive preparedness for global warming and concomitant sea level rise.
Recall that in Texas last year, high-level state officials under Texas Governor Rick Perry censored a chapter in The State of the Bay, a regular publication of the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, to remove discussion of climate change and sea level rise. “This is a clear-cut case of censorship,” the author, Dr. John B. Anderson, an oceanographer atRiceUniversity, told Raw Story. “It’s not scientific editing.”
The NOAA Climate Service is a management tool that was intended, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future will become, a way to orchestrate and rationalize a diverse set of activities designed to connect climate research with management decisionmaking in various sectors of society. See: Letters in support of the NOAA Climate Service that the House Science Committee hasn’t made public
Despite political interference, one thing seems clear: the need for numbers isn’t going away. “States and local communities will need a wide range of accurate data in order to manage preparedness vis-a-vis climate change,” Piltz wrote, including potential impacts on water resources, agricultural production, fisheries, ecosystems and public lands, coastal zones, public health systems, and more.
Information is currency in a warming world. How the United States—and China—respond may be the difference between “game over for the climate,” and a sustainable planet.
High-quality observations and long-term monitoring data — including both Earth system data and socioeconomic data — are essential for both scientific research and climate change policy and management decisionmaking. This is true up to the global level; the deterioration of global climate observing satellite systems that started to reach crisis proportions under the Bush administration could lead to ‘blinding’ scientists’ ability to measure and analyze what is happening to the Earth system, and the impacts of human activity on the system. It is true down to the local level; the impacts of climatic disruption are likely to be many and varied and will be experienced in different ways in different geographical areas and socioeconomic sectors of society. Preparedness measures must be adopted at all levels. States and local communities will need a wide range of accurate data in order to manage preparedness vis-a-vis climate change impacts.
Climate Progress has this comment on the China study: China’s Huge Emissions Gap: Difference Between Actual And Reported CO2 May Equal Yearly Emissions Of Japan
This difference in reported data has huge consequences: It makes the job of climate scientists modeling emissions and warming scenarios more difficult; it makes international agreements on emissions cuts more murky; and it makes it harder for China to properly monitor regional cap and trade markets that provinces are beginning to roll out.
Oh, and it means that our current emissions path, which experts already say will have “devastating consequences for the planet,” may be conservative.
Discrepancies in reported pollution data are a common problem in China. Officials in the country have been repeatedly called out for using shoddy methods for measuring air pollution, calling “hazardous, emergency-condition” levels of air pollution “minor.” China’s pollution reporting has been so poor, the government has called on other countries not to release its national air quality data.
The explosion in Chinese carbon emissions is mostly due to a stunning rise in coal consumption. More than 70 percent of the “gap” comes from burning coal. And a growing chunk of that coal is coming from the United States, where producers are looking for new international markets to offset the decline in domestic consumption.