October 29, 2014, by Kieran Cooke
Smoke belches from a coal-fired energy plant in the US state of Wyoming
Image: Greg Goebel via Wikimedia Commons
New research suggests that global emission reduction targets are achievable if China and the US – the world’s worst emitters of greenhouse gases − work together to reduce pollution levels. LONDON, 29 October, 2014 – Tentative steps have been taken by China and the US towards co-operating on climate change − mainly focusing on relatively modest technological schemes connected with more efficient and less polluting power generation. But a new report calls on the two countries to be far more ambitious, and says that if the two adopt global best practice on climate change policy, total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) would be radically reduced, and the goal of limiting the global average temperature rise to 2˚C by 2050 could be achieved. Limiting the temperature rise to 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 is considered to be essential if catastrophic climate change is to be averted, although some in the scientific community have questioned the relevance of having such a target. The new report − a collaboration between the Ecofys energy consultancy, the Climate Analytics research group and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) – says that, together, China and the US are responsible for about 35% of global GHG emissions.
“If they scale up action to adopt the most ambitious policies from across the world, they would both be on the right pathway to keep warming below 2˚C,” says Bill Hare, senior scientist at PIK. “This needs to include dramatically reducing their use of coal, in order to achieve the deep decarbonisation needed in getting CO2 emissions from coal back to 1990 levels by 2030.” The report compares the actions of both countries in their most energy intensive sectors – electricity production, buildings and transport.
- Electricity usage per head in the US is four times that in China. In both countries, emissions from the electricity sector have been reduced, but more coal plants are planned. If both increased the share of renewables in the sector by 1.3% per year – a rate achieved by Germany and the UK since 2005 – it would make a considerable difference to overall emissions levels.
- China’s cement plants are more energy efficient than those in the US, but the situation is reversed with iron and steel plants. Lower emissions could be achieved if both countries adopted the best available technology.
- Car ownership is 10 times higher in the US than in China, though the difference is narrowing. China implements stronger emissions standards. If both countries moved to global best practice in the sector − such as adopting EU emissions standards, or working towards a greater take-up of electric cars, such as in Norway − then lower overall emissions levels could be achieved.
- “Massive reductions” in emissions could be achieved if China and the US adopted EU building standards governing heat and energy. The use of energy in residential buildings in the US is three times as high as in China.
The report concludes that if both countries agree to adopt global best practice across all these sectors, then China could reduce its overall emissions by 1.2% by 2020 and by 20% by 2030, while the US would reduce its emissions by 3.2% by 2020 and 16% by 2030. – Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues