I recently posted about predictions of Asia and specifically China’s energy consumption skyrocketing along with its CO2 emissions. Already the world leading overall carbon emitter (though China is 78th in terms of per capita emissions according to 2008 data) the planet’s most populous nation is a major driving force in global climate change.

small coal mine, pic: LOON (Flickr CC)

The problem is, no one is sure how much CO2 – much less greenhouse gases on the whole – China is actually producing. A new study juxtaposes official national data with that from its provinces – and the data don’t match. The study estimates that China could be emitting 20% more than previously thought.

From Reuters:

Scientists say the world is already racing towards a warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more in coming decades because of the rapid growth in emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Adding another billion tonnes into computer models would accelerate the pace of expected warming.

This is a worrying discrepancy. If the world’s leading emitter is emitting that much more CO2 (more than Japan’s annual emissions) than climate change could be taking place, or being driven, significantly more than commonly accepted.

The main contributors to the disparities between provincial and national data, as well as being (in the words of Donald Rumsfeld) a “known unknown”, are coalmines, many of which are undocumented, unregulated, illegal and/or secret. Provinces also reportedly tend to underestimate their carbon emissions in order to meet targets.

From the Guardian:

I would say the biggest concern about the accuracy and reliability of (China’s emissions) data is coal – and that comes from too many small coal mines supplying small enterprises and industrial plants. They have no monitoring systems and generally speaking, they are also avoiding tax.

–Yang Fuqiang, former Chinese energy official

In the wake of criticism for CO2 emissions, the Chinese government has fired back, blaming climate change on industrialized Western countries and their long history of emissions. The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry cited China’s per capita emissions and maintained that some increase in CO2 is necessary to alleviate poverty.

Coal plant on Yangtze River, pic: robot glue (Flickr CC)

They have a point of course. But of course no one in the West knew about climate change during the Industrial Revolution – not that they’ve done much to combat it since.

Another way China is responding is by establishing a climate change think tank in order to provide “innovative solutions” such as a carbon trading market, which it will test in 7 provinces next year before going national.

Read more about China’s new think tank, the National Climate Change Strategy Research and International Cooperation Center on China Daily.