China has been burning up to 17% more coal per year than previously reported, according to new data released by the Chinese government. New York’s Times announced this news in a top-left, front-page story on 4th November. According to reporter Chris Buckley, “The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated. The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.”
This is important news in at least three respects. First, it means that global greenhouse gas emissions have been much larger during a period when the global mean temperature has not gone up as predicted. This suggests that the climate could be even less sensitive to carbon dioxide levels than recent research has found. The alarmists are going to have to move quickly to explain this possibility away.
Second, the gap between the greenhouse gas reductions promised by the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions submitted to the forthcoming Paris climate treaty and the official calculations of total greenhouse gas reductions necessary to avoid a two-degree Celsius increase in the global mean temperature has widened considerably. As I reported in last week’s Digest, Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called the INDCs a “down payment” on the greenhouse gas reductions that would be required “to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” which is the “ultimate objective” of the UNFCCC. If the additional Chinese emissions are added to the total, then the down payment is even smaller than the UNFCCC secretariat’s recent calculations, which means much more to be done. The draft text of the Paris climate treaty contains an automatic review and adjustment of targets and timetables of emissions reductions every five years.
Third, the upward revision in Chinese emissions raises the importance of the transparency issue in the Paris climate negotiations. The United States and the European Union have insisted that the reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions must be subject to external monitoring and verification. China recently agreed that more transparency was necessary, but has not yet agreed to these demands in the negotiations, which are scheduled to conclude with a new climate treaty at COP-21 (the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) in Paris in December.