China is getting serious about global warming, having recently announced plans to start up a national carbon emissions trading program by 2017. China’s plan is ambitious, if nothing else, but already doubts are emerging over whether or not the country will be able to achieve its ambitious goals.
The carbon market was announced by President Xi Jinping this past Friday after the United States and China both made pledges to address global warming. Given that both the United States and China are the world’s biggest producers of carbon dioxide via economic activities, the announcement is already being seen as a cornerstone achievement. Of course, actually achieving the goals of the bilateral agreement could prove to be far more difficult.
China is by far the world’s largest carbon emitter, producing some 10,330,000KT in 2013. The United States comes in at second place, producing 5,300,000KT, but on a per capita basis the U.S. easily bests China. America produces 16.6T per person, while China produces “only” 7.4T per person. To put that into perspective, the European Union produces only 3,740,000KT as a whole, and 7.3T per person, despite being more economically developed than China
Under the scheme, companies would be allocated a certain number of permits. Unused permits could then be sold to those companies who need them, and companies who need to purchase permits will be able to buy extras.
Even if the political willpower is there to create such a carbon market, actually measuring and monitoring carbon output could prove to be far more difficult. China is a massive country and is home to 1.3 billion people. At the same time, the country has enjoyed a rapid period of economic growth, with factories and other industrial activities cropping up across the nation. Monitoring this vast amount of activity will be exceptionally difficult, especially for a middle income country.
Already, efforts by the Chinese to enforce safety standards, labor laws, and other easier-to-verify measures have failed to live up to their ambitions. Adulterated products, toxic runoff, and frequent labor abuses are all common in the nation. Implementing a cap-and-trade market in such an environment could prove to be next to impossible.
Corruption is also a massive issue even in spite of harsh crackdowns by Beijing. Given how burdensome and expensive a carbon market could be for China’s vast number of manufacturers and other industrial activities, carbon-emissions related bribes could prove to be quite lucrative.
Carbon dioxide accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas pollution world-wide. According to the EPA CO2 pollution accounts for approximately 74 percent of pollution world-wide, with 57 percent coming from fossil fuel use, and another 17 percent coming from deforestation and other biomass related activities. Methane, much of it associated with waste management, accounted for another 14 percent, and nitrous oxide accounted for another 8 percent. Most nitrous oxide production is associated with agriculture.
Either way, China and the United States have laid out ambitious plans, but now the questions is whether or not they will be able to achieve them.