Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

China’s CO2 three-card monte

China’s stated CO2 figures are inconsistent – by a lot:

There’s a gap the size of Japan in China’s declared carbon emissions.

When researchers added up the emissions declared by each of the 30 provinces in 2010, they found the total was greater than what the country declared as a whole – by the equivalent of 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

That’s the same amount that Japan – the world’s fourth biggest emitter – pumps into the atmosphere each year, and amounts to about 5 per cent of annual global emissions.

It’s not clear how much of this is due to the provinces over-declaring, or the national agency under-declaring.

As the sense of urgency about climate change grows, we should expect to see every major CO2 emitting country (and likely some of the minor ones, as well) lie about their numbers. There’s a huge incentive to doing so, and there’s no real cost, so it will happen. It’s that simple.

I’ve mentioned several times on this site that I expected to see this issue surface first in the form of scientists pointing out that the year-to-year increase in atmospheric CO2 implies a much high level of worldwide emissions than the sum of the reported country-level numbers. This would create an uncomfortable situation if one of the countries with, shall we say, erroneous reported numbers were to be called out in a way that revealed the previously unrecognized monitoring capabilities of some other country. Or perhaps the second country, also shaving a few millions of tons from their yearly total, would be happy to keep quiet, and maintain the secrecy surrounding their ability to track emissions, and also avoid being called out for their own number fudging.

In any case, anyone who thinks we can count on reported emissions numbers as this little piece of theater plays itself out is being hopelessly naive.

7 comments to China’s CO2 three-card monte

  • If acknowledged emissions become increasingly less than real emissions then, even if the real airborne fraction remains constant, it will appear that the airborne fraction is increasing which would argue for more rapid reductions in emissions (because it appears to show that carbon sinks are filling up).

    Therefore, it’ll be in the apparent short-term interests of the big emitters that the IPCC uses estimates of the total emissions which are greater than the sum of the acknowledged national emissions. That could lead to some interesting political pressure on the scientific process.

  • Lou

    China slams accusations on carbon emissions

    Translation: “Since you guys loaded the gun and pointed it at our head, it’s not our fault if we pull the trigger.”

    And, I would remind everyone here for perhaps the 500th time, the atmosphere gives precisely 0.000 fucks about who emitted which CO2 (and CH4 and …) molecules and why.

  • Lewis Cleverdon

    I’ve yet to see just which nation’s official GHG emissions account can stand up to even cursory scrutiny, so it seems a pity that China’s position should be utilized as yet another China-bashing blame-externalization across the web.

    Take current US outputs for a start – how reliable is the account of volatile HCs from vehicles – which vary by fuel, by season, by engine make and year, by vehicle maintenance, and by driver. Or the fugitive emissions from feedlots, gas wells and wetland-draining – how well are they accounted ? Then there’s the massive unrecorded outputs from US forest fires and their cocktail effects alongside vehicle VHCs generating high potency ozone. Where’s the account for this ?

    Until the US formally acknowledges its liability for recovering its huge historic emissions and accepts a binding treaty commitment to phase out its fossil fuel dependence, surely the widespread American criticism of other nations’ performance lacks cogency ?



  • Lou

    Lewis: As for VHCs from vehicles, and emissions from feedlots, forest fires, etc. — you tell me. How reliable are those figures? If the US figures, as in the GHG Inventory ( are wrong, please show us where and document your sources. It would be a great addition to the online dialog, and it would shine a light on something that surely needs to be fixed.

    In the paper I posted about, the authors documented exactly where the discrepancies are, using figures from various government agencies in China. That seems like a far more serious approach than mere China bashing.

    And as for the whole blame game of “is it the US or is it China”, I’ve totally lost my patience with it. As I’ve said here many times, the West loaded the gun and pointed it at our heads, and China and India are doing their best to pull the trigger, claiming that it’s now their turn to play with the gun. If you want to say it’s the West’s fault for creating the situation, you have a point. And if you want to say it’s China’s and India’s fault for pushing us over the edge, you also have a point. Personally, I don’t give a fuck any more than the atmosphere does.

  • Lewis Cleverdon

    Lou – with regard to US vehicle VHCs, AFAIK govt has yet to run the requisite mass observation program of say 10,000 diverse current vehicles for a year to record their emissions – instead it runs the corporate manufacturers’ data into computer models.

    Pretty near ditto for feedlots, with all of their highly variable climatic conditions, though there have been lab tests run on dung samples.

    Re forest fires’ output there is no practical means of getting an accurate record – just what is produced and in what proportions depends on a host of variables, including ground and canopy fuel load and type, moisture content, air temperature, wind speed and feedback-wind-speed, degree of land inclination, etc. Given that really hot fires can oxidise nitrogen, releasing potentially very large volumes of a gas that is around 300 times as potent as CO2, this matters, but gets little attention. No doubt scientists have been overflying fires to try to get representative air samples, but I’ve yet to hear of any government incorporating such data in their emissions accounts.

    I mostly share your disdain for the blame game as being a distraction from the inaction of the nation pointing the finger. China has been widely targeted in this regard under the Obama administration – while the US has actively obstructed any and every significant action toward the requisite global treaty.

    While I don’t see blame as a relevant tactic for change, facing all countries with the task of acknowledging their responsibility for their cumulative emissions is plainly requisite. It is an unworkable nonsense to propose burden sharing measured only as a fraction of nations’ current emissions – as has been clear for 18 years at the UNFCCC.

    While the climate policy framework of “Contraction & Convergence” has increasingly potent support worldwide for its capacity to control national emissions in an equitable and efficient manner, it doesn’t inherently address the issue of the cumulative or ‘historic’ emissions. They require a dedicated protocol in the treaty for the logjam to be broken.

    The rational basis of that protocol is of a global program of carbon recovery, with each nation committing to fund sufficient forestry (or neo-trees) that conform to a stringent UN standard re social and ecological impact, to recover its entire carbon debt within an agreed number of decades.

    Yet as long as the US govt. sees accelerating climate destabilization as a means to break China’s rise to global economic dominance, such solutions are off the table.

    Maybe the policy will be dropped when more Americans recognize just what is being done in their name ?