Washington, D.C. – November 21, 2016 – A review of data comparing nations and their emissions raises new questions of who should be pressed to pick up the emission reduction slack among the Paris Agreement signatory nations. A number of countries, including the U.S., took preemptive steps to reduce carbon emissions before the Agreement went into effect on November 4th of this year. Many foreign leaders and environmental experts have praised China as “leading the way” to reduced emissions because of their reduced coal heavy energy use, despite China’s increased emission rates from other sources. This news comes amidst calls both domestic and foreign for the U.S. to further reduce its emission footprint.

Short End of the Stick?

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Source: Global Carbon Atlas

A deal was secretly negotiated between the U.S.  and China in order to secure China’s signature for the Paris Agreement. The deal was formally announced by President Barack Obama and Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping in 2014. It required that the U.S. further cut its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Some speculate that this requirement is partly responsible for the closure of American factories and coal mines. In exchange, China agreed to begin lowering emissions by 2030, despite producing more carbon emissions than both the U.S. and European Union combined at the time of the agreement. A press release from Tsinghua University scholars shortly after the agreement’s announcement stated that China’s CO2 emissions were expected to increase by one third before the 2030 deadline. A review of emission level trends further strengthens this estimation.

If China is still producing more emissions than both the U.S. and EU, why are environmental experts praising China as a leader in emission reduction? Experts justify their praise by pointing to China’s energy use increase of 0.9 percent last year, a historic low for the economic power house when compared to their previous energy use increases of 2.2 percent in 2014 and 5.9 percent in 2010. Chairman Xi is often times credited for this reduction due to his continual pressure to lower coal use in his country.

The Impact of Ghost Cities

While coal use in China is lower, its use of other carbon emission sources continues to rise unregulated. This increase can be traced back to the supply needs of state-owned construction firms and their mandate to create cities throughout China to strengthen their GDP. These state-created towns, known as “ghost cities,” are
prohibitively expensive to residents in and around the construction area.

The majority of property purchases in ghost cities come from China’s wealthiest citizens seeking to acquire real estate that will provide a high return on investment. The buildings remain

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Source: Global Carbon Atlas

vacant after most purchases and are not rented out. This state-sponsored construction surge continues unabated, leaving a trail of ghost cities in its wake. Some question whether emission reduction efforts by other nations will be thwarted by China’s unceasing ghost city construction.

The Cost of Progress

In addition to CO2 emitting construction machinery, massive amounts of cement and steel are required to create China’s ghost cities. The production process for both items generates enough emissions to account for a significant portion of the country’s total carbon emissions. Up until 2014, both steel and cement production rates showed no sign of losing steam. This changed in 2015, when Chinese cement production reportedly decreased.

It is difficult to say if this downward production trend will continue and if steel production will follow suit. Both items are required for continuous city building, a vital component of China’s strategy to strengthen its GPD and maintain its global economic power in currency markets.

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Source: USGS (2015), WSA (2015)

Yet the combined emission reduction efforts of every Paris Agreement signatory nation other than China cannot compensate for China’s increasing emissions unless ghost city construction does not slow down or stop. It is currently unknown if the U.S./China emission deal will be revisited in the future, as China’s Paris Agreement participation was contingent on deal’s caveat. However, as the Agreement currently stands, China and its people will continue to grow in economic prosperity at the expense of the planet and other signatory nations.

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