By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The carbon emissions of China's electric power sector will jump by about a third this year and surpass the total emissions of the U.S. electric power industry for the first time, according to a report by the Center for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank.
The estimate, gathered from a variety of public data, shows that while China and India are becoming somewhat more efficient in energy use, their rapid pace of economic growth would mean a doubling of their carbon emissions from power plants over the next dozen years.
"We see some marginal signs of improvement in carbon intensity, particularly in some of the major developing countries," said Kevin Ummel, a researcher at the Center for Global Development. "But even with that slight silver lining, aggregate emissions -- the only measure that matters to the atmosphere -- continue to race upward."
Worldwide, power generation accounts for 37 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and 27 percent of all carbon emissions, including those attributed to deforestation.
The report highlights the challenge of curbing greenhouse gases in time to slow climate change while maintaining world economic growth. China and India have made growth their top priority to raise living standards and many international climate negotiators don't expect meaningful limits on carbon emissions from those countries until after 2020.
But that would spell trouble for the climate, many scientists warn. "We urgently need to cut power-related CO2 emissions," said David Wheeler, a senior fellow at the center.
According to the report, Chinese power plants will produce about 3.1 billion tons of CO2 this year, up from about 2.3 billion tons in 2007. U.S. power plants are expected to produce about 2.8 billion tons of CO2 this year, about the same as last year.
Paul Ting, a veteran oil analyst now specializing on China, said that China relies on coal for three-quarters of its energy consumption. "They cannot get away from coal," he said.
Chinese leaders are increasing the use of natural gas, but Ting said that changes in the composition of Chinese energy would be "very small and very slow."
Moreover, Ting noted, China has maintained tight price controls over electricity rates, giving consumers little incentive to conserve or boost energy efficiency. The government nudged rates up about 5 percent in June, he said, and about the same amount in July.
If all of the power plants being planned for China and the United States are built, China's power-related emissions would exceed those of the United States by 40 percent, the Center for Global Development report said. The United States emits more from transportation than does China because there are more vehicles on the road here.
The United States also spews more carbon dioxide per person than other nations. Electricity usage here produces about 9.5 tons of CO2 per person, compared with 2.4 tons per person in China, 0.6 in India and 0.1 in Brazil, the report said.
The report shows that over the past eight years, global carbon dioxide emissions have grown more than a third to 11.4 billion tons a year. Two-thirds of that has come from China.
Wind and solar power play a much bigger role in the plans for future power generation in the United States than in China and India. In the United States, wind and solar have an 18 percent share, while they account for less than 1 percent in China and India, Ummel said. In China and India, more than half of all planned power plants rely on coal.
Half of the biggest carbon emitters worldwide are Chinese power companies, led by Huaneng Power International, an independent company initially led by the son of former premier Li Peng. The next biggest are the South African utility Eskom, China Huadian Group and the Atlanta-based Southern Co., which has 4.4 million customers and 42,000 megawatts of generating capacity.