China’s economic growth undermining carbon-cutting efforts



Despite climate change commitments and improvements in its approach to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, China’s massive economic growth is jeopardising its efforts to build a low-carbon economy, new research has found.

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The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found for instance that in the province of Guizhou, carbon efficiency has improved by 98% but industrial production caused a 125% efficiency loss at the same time, leading to a 27% net fall in efficiency.

The findings suggest that China, currently the biggest investor in renewable energy in the world, must still do more to curb its environmental impact.

Lead author Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said, “Capital investment creates a market demand for the large-scale production expansion of cement, steel and other highly emission-intensive processed materials, and the associated electricity generation to support their production.

“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.”

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) and recently pledged to cut its emissions by 45% by 2020. The country is constantly facing high levels of land, air and water pollution that are compromising its economy as well as public health.

Recent research revealed that 75% of China’s lakes and rivers and 50% of its groundwater supplies are contaminated.

Prof Guan added, “Urban household consumption, export of goods and services, and infrastructure investment are the main factors contributing to accumulated water pollution since 2000.

“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.

“The Chinese government needs to prioritise green business investment and clean technology, both on a regional and national level. Only then will the positive efforts China has made begin to work toward a more sustainable future.”

Photo: erhard.renz via flickr

Further reading:

China and US promise to lead climate change fight

Beijing to stop polluting industries from further expanding in the city

China updates environmental law to target polluters

Chinese coal pollution ‘responsible for 250,000 deaths’ in 2011

Invisible cities and flammable rivers: China’s pollution problem


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