Although China and the United States are the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, they must be treated differently under international agreements that address climate change. Even though China’s population is three-and-a-half times larger than that of the United States, the U.S. has contributed four-and-a-half times more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere this century. On a per capita basis, Americans emit 7.5 times more CO2 than the average Chinese.
- Over the past 20 years, China has taken concrete steps to conserve energy and reduce emissions growth while simultaneously raising standards of living. Without price reforms and energy efficiency gains, China’s emissions would be more than 50% higher than current levels. Per dollar of GDP, China has cut its carbon emission levels in half since 1980. This is an unprecedented “de-coupling” of carbon emissions and economic growth, relative to any other country.
- Despite dramatic improvements in energy efficiency, China remains one of the most carbon- and energy-intensive economies in the world, relying on coal (the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel) for 75% of its commercial energy consumption. China’s own studies indicate a potential to further reduce industrial energy use by 40-50%. Switching from coal to natural gas would also dramatically lower carbon dioxide emissions and improve air quality.
- Since 1988, electricity generating capacity has increased by 10,000 megawatts (MW) per year, reaching an installed capacity of over 200,000 MW. Government plans indicate ambitious future expansions of 15,000 MW per year to meet excess demand for electricity. Seventy-five percent of electric power in China is generated by fossil fuels, mainly coal.
- Industrial boilers, which account for one-third of China’s coal use, offer opportunities to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The average boiler efficiency in China is only 55-65%, compared with 80-85% for systems using more current technologies. Thermal efficiencies of Chinese coal-fired power plants are also relatively low, at 29-32%, compared to current technologies that deliver 40% (for coal) to over 50% (for natural gas combined cycle) efficiencies.
- Increasing the efficiencies of boilers and power plants is a target for multilateral financial assistance (through the World Bank and Global Environment Facility) and a potential target for the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, designed to promote the transfer of cutting-edge technologies that lower greenhouse gas emissions to developing countries.
- China has large renewable energy resources. Most significantly, installed wind power capacity is 240 MW and rising rapidly.
- Both China and the U.S. have signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, though neither country has ratified the Protocol. Both countries are Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
- China faces severe deforestation problems, which contributed to the devastating floods during the summer of 1998.