The New York Times on CO2 emissions in China

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A headline from a story in the New York Times:

China Said to Sharply Reduce Emissions of Carbon Dioxide

An excerpt from the story:

In the debate on global climate change it has long been a given that China, with its huge population and endless coal reserves, would overtake the United States early this century as the biggest source of the atmospheric pollution that scientists believe is warming the planet.

That specter of runaway Chinese emissions has been cited by President Bush as a major reason for describing as ”fatally flawed” the 1997 Kyoto agreement to protect the climate. The treaty exempts developing countries, including China, from its initial, binding limits on the output of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases that scientists believe are causing traumatic changes in the climate.

But treaty obligation or not, China has already achieved a dramatic slowing in its emissions of carbon dioxide in the last decade, Chinese and Western energy experts say. That record of progress has pushed further into the horizon the day that China will surpass the United States as the lead culprit, and it is something that Mr. Bush seems to have overlooked in his harsh appraisal.

Chinese officials insist that their country will do its fair share to combat a serious global threat.

This is not a story from this week, as you probably guessed. The story was printed on June 14, 2001. In 2001, China produced 1.5 billion tonnes of coal each year. It now produces 3.9 billion tonnes each year. So, the “sharp reduction”, if it happened at all, did not last long.

The New York Times headline may sound incredibly daft given China was just about to go on the biggest coal binge in human history – adding 2 billion tonnes of annual production in a decade, something that North America and Europe combined took over a century to do. The NYT was simply reflecting the consensus that existed at the time. If you look at forecasts from the time, no one was predicting that China would be consuming close to 4 billion tonnes of coal today. Lesson: don’t make confident predictions about the future of coal in China.

h/t Andy Revkin on Twitter