Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 12th 2015 Contents NOVEMBER 12 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
INTERNATIONAL | BG21
To get a sense of how hard it is to measure
greenhouse gas emissions in China, it pays to
visit the Deqingyuan poultry farm on the out-
skirts of Beijing, where streams of chicken
manure are piped from wooden sheds to an
industrial gas digester that rises above the
ground like a tethered balloon.
Turning waste into kilowatts qualifies Deqingyuan for valuable
carbon credits under a UN-backed scheme known as the Clean
Development Mechanism. The digester turns all that chicken
slurry into natural gas, powering a nearby electricity station
and supplying fuel to 39 surrounding villages.
Yet, calculating those emissions requires a 54-page, UN-
certified rulebook, a methodology that factors everything from
the amount of methane removed from the manure to local
temperatures and animal weight to come up with a figure.
And that cumbersome process can mean Deqingyuan s
emissions savings vary wildly; sometimes by as much as 20
"I don t know how they calculate the figure but there were
many researchers from universities who came to assess it,"
said Vincent Wei, a marketing manager at Helee Bio-Energy
Technology, which built the plant.
Precise data collection is a tricky business everywhere, as
the Volkswagen scandal over discrepancies between the German
auto company s emissions claims and the real world performance
of its engines has shown.
But getting accurate emissions data is crucial for governments
seeking a global climate accord in Paris this December. Nego-
tiators say that, to succeed, any agreement must be built upon
measurable, reportable and verifiable statistics in order to
assess whether countries are on track to meet their emissions
And getting a better grasp of the right numbers is particularly
crucial in the case of China, which is widely assumed to be
the world s largest carbon emitter. China s energy use is so
great that even minute errors in data can translate into a dif-
ference of millions of tonnes of emissions.
No one currently knows how many tonnes of carbon China
emits each year. Its emissions are estimates based on how
much raw energy is consumed, and calculations are derived
from proxy data consisting mostly of energy consumption as
well as industry, agriculture, land use changes and waste.
Many outside observers view the accuracy of those figures
"China s contribution (to the global climate plan in Paris)
is based on CO2 emissions but China doesn t publish CO2
emissions," said Glen Peters, senior researcher at the Center
for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
You re left in the wilderness, really.
Demands for better data played a major role in the failure
of the 2009 Copenhagen conference, when China and several
developing nations balked at providing the rest of the world
with detailed data, claiming it would be an intrusion on their
The last time Beijing produced an official figure was in
2005, when it said its emissions stood at approximately 7.47
billion tonnes. And while it has promised that emissions will
peak by 2030 at the latest, experts say the statistical uncertainty
is so great that forecasts on what that peak means can vary
from 11 to 20 billion tonnes a year.
That margin is greater than the entire annual carbon footprint
At the moment, no country has the technology or the budget
to completely track exact greenhouse gas emissions in real
The International Energy Agency and other energy organ-
izations operate a centralised reporting and analysis system
using unified statistical methodologies and reporting sched-
The European Union s emissions trading market, for example,
also operates mainly on estimates based on the amount of
carbon in energy burned. But the Europeans say monitoring
and measurement of the roughly 11,000 power stations and
industrial plants in 31 countries that comprise the system are
stricter than what occurs in developing nations.
"Every single source that could have emissions connected
to it has to be identified and controlled," said Halvor Molland,
director of information at Norwegian aluminium producer
Norsk Hydro which also follows UN guidelines and says its
numbers are verified by outsider companies.
"Even if we have a fire drill and we use diesel to set a small
fire we have to calculate the amounts," he said. "These are
chemical reactions so we know that if you set fire to one litre
of diesel you know how much carbon will come out."
China s data reporting is managed by hundreds of organ-
izations, and the methodologies and data at the local government
and industry level often conflict with the country s National
Bureau of Statistics. For example, coal production data accu-
mulated from 26 provincial governments in 2013 was 500
million tonnes more than the NBS report of 3.65 billion tonnes.
There are different understandings about which firms should
be monitored. Small-scale businesses that fall below the NBS
threshold are routinely excluded from calculations, and many
small, illegal coal mines conceal their production in order to
China is the only country apart from Russia to use raw coal
production rather than sales to calculate overall output, which
fails to account for the losses that accrue during processing
and transportation and also ignores waste products like gangue,
which could account for around 18 percent of raw coal out-
These gaps could mean that China s emissions are actually
being overestimated, a government researcher said.
All this riddles the system with imperfections. A study pub-
lished last month by the magazine Nature suggested China s
emissions could have actually been exaggerated by as much
as 14 percent because of faulty assumptions about the quality
of China s coal.
Bureaucratic rivalries also lead to clashing data. Climate
negotiations are run from the National Reform and Development
Commission, which determines what data to publish.
"All the emission estimates officially come from the NDRC
rather than from the statistics bureau," says Dabo Guan, a
professor of climate change economics at the University of
East Anglia. "The NDRC is in charge of the whole climate
change negotiations and they have to fight for the best position
for China, so they have their concerns about what can and
cannot be published."
"The Chinese government likes to hold authority over data
for fear that different numbers than those from official sources
could lead to social unrest," says Angel Hsu, a professor with
the Yale School of Forestry And Environmental Studies, who
has researched the poor quality of Chinese data.
"China claims they don t have the human capacity to main-
tain and run the monitors," she says. "But they were monitoring
air quality for over a decade; they just didn t release it because
they were worried that it would lead to social unrest."
Officially, China says it recognises the need to produce better
data. It promised the United Nations in June to train auditors
to collect better data and to produce regular national carbon
"The Chinese government has been funding studies into
the carbon inventory; it needs to know its real level of emissions
in order to reduce it," said Xi Fengming, a researcher with the
China Academy of Sciences (CASS) who has spent the last
six years researching the country s total carbon levels.
Xi says China had made great strides since 2012 to improve
the way its numbers are collected, including crackdowns on
illegal coal production and the statistical fraud by energy-
intensive enterprises. It has been experimenting with drones
to detect carbon dioxide build-ups in urban areas, and has
launched pilot projects to measure energy consumption levels
in real-time at industrial facilities.
Researchers say that measuring emissions from the energy
sector, which amount to around 70-80 per cent of China s
total, is critical to getting a good overall picture of the country s
Some observers blame the failure of China s attempt a decade
ago to create an emissions market---this one in sulphur permits
models on the US sulphur market---on the lack of accurate
acid rain data. Getting there remains a daunting task. AP
Unbearable lightness of
Chinese emissions data
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