When will China reverse its carbon emissions?

No one knows for sure, you will find a brief survey of some estimates here.  Let’s start with a few simpler points, however.

First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.  This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word.  They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off.  They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not.  Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app.  A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers.  But they didn’t.  What does that say about what one might call…”the monitoring end”…of this new deal?

Third, a lot of the relevant Chinese regulatory apparatus is at the local not federal level (in fact it should be more centrally done, even if not fully federalized in every case).  There are plenty of current local laws against air pollution which are simply not enforced, often because of corruption, and often that pollution is emanating from locally well-connected, job-creating state-owned enterprises.  Often the pollution comes from one locality and victimizes another, especially in the north of the country.   Those are not good local regulatory incentives and it will take a long time to correct them.  Right now for instance Beijing imports a lot of its pollution from nearby, poorer regions which simply wish to keep churning the stuff out.  The Chinese also do not have anything close to a consistently well-staffed environmental bureaucracy.

Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.)  The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

The media coverage I have seen of the U.S.-China emissions “deal” has not been exactly forthcoming in presenting these rather basic points.  It’s almost as if no one studies the history of air pollution anymore.

I understand why a lot of reporters want to “clutch at straws” — it’s good for both clicks and the conscience — but a dose of realism is required as well.  The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release.


In rapid fire succession. Tyler confirms he fears fellow liberal academics much more than he does the entire Chinese government.

@C - would you rather the reverse, that TC feared the Chinese government? That would be the case if he worked in Peking University.

No one has a higher bodycount than liberal academics.

Tyler gets it exactly right.

Liberal academics are here, and have less respect for truth and are more vindictive than the Chinese or any foreign government. They also like America less.

A couple observations as a Beijing resident:
1) The Chinese government pulled out all the stops this week to keep the air clean for the heads of state (schools and many government offices and buildings were closed from Friday to Wednesday, factories as far as Jinan were shut down, alternate-day driving, etc.). This approach shows me that the leadership recognizes and is embarrassed by the air quality and that they believe they can control it. Hubris is a virtue here.
2) I check the air quality index posted by the China National Environmental Monitoring Center on a regular basis. I wouldn't rely on them for precise numbers, but generally the numbers go up when the air gets worse and it's a useful indicator. This weekend, however, there were times when I saw two-digit numbers with a solid white sky–I suspect the actual AQI should have been 2-3 times higher. (I don't normally check the Embassy readings, which were blocked, simply because I live on the other side of the city).

The U.S. has had a history of success fighting a variety of kinds of air pollution, such as (to designate the problem by its symptom) smog, acid rain, and the hole in ozone layer. That doesn't mean that reducing carbon emissions will be easy, but fixing each of those earlier forms of air pollution were widely seen as impractical at various points, too.

"Other things were once considered impractical" is a common but ultimately meaningless rebuttal to the contention that something is impractical. Yes, incredible technicological progress has solved many problems. But that doesn't mean technical progress can solve any problem (including problems that seem superficially similar to previously solved problems). We still haven't colonized space or developed flying cars, despite a progression of technology that at one point seemed to lead inevitably to those outcomes.

There is a whole body of evidence that makes a convincing case that we won't solve carbon emissions. That evidence needs to be dealt with if you want to argue that it is possible.


But do keep in mind that various pollution problems in the past were described power companies or air conditioner manufacturers or whatever as ruinously expensive to fix, only to turn out that the capitalist system was pretty good at coming up with fixes.

That's probably not going to happen with carbon emissions, unfortunately. But it's worth keeping in mind that regulated interests have a track record of crying wolf about the costs of cutting pollution until forced to do so.

Unlike smog and acid rain, carbon emissions per se are probably not a real problem.

And the sentiment in laderff's comment is probably the single greatest reason why Mr. Sailer's prediction will come true.

Good. In the mean time feel free to reduce your own carbon footprint or whatever.

Part of the reason those problems were "fixed" was because of the significant outsourcing of manufacturing. There's a lot less production in Socal, the Rust Belt is basically dead economically, etc. When you dial down that kind of production, you get lower pollution.

Outsourcing allowed production hence pollution to decrease, while still supplying relatively cheap consumer goods to the domestic economy. Without outsourcing, it would have been much more impractical to reduce pollution since there would have been a greater trade-off with consumer goods. People want clean air, but they also want cheap consumer goods.

Perhaps, but my vague history of smog in Los Angeles is that it really got started around 1943 with all-out factory production. During the war, Life Magazine ran a cover photo of smokestacks belching smoke to encourage the troops that the homefront was working hard to get them what they needed. In the 1960s and 1970s, major smokestack pollution in Los Angeles was reduced significantly, so that most smog was the result of autos. This was well-before outsourcing, although perhaps it came with an opportunity cost of discouraging the erection of major new polluters like steel mills.

Then the catalytic converter was introduced in 1975 model cars, but cars in California run a long time, so smog remained bad into, say, the middle 80s, then fell rapidly in the 1990s or so.

Japanese cars started being imported significantly in the 70s and 80s. I think California was one of the first major markets for Japanese imports.

I am concerned that China's carbon emissions may take a long time to go down, but I don't have any doubt that they will go down. Coal power will have the same problem that it has here in Australia. New coal capacity simply can't compete with new renewable capacity. As a result new renewable capacity will be favored over new coal capacity and eventually total coal generating capacity will start to fall, reducing carbon emissions along with it. So it's more a problem of how much damage the existing coal generating capacity is going to cause before it is shut down rather than a problem of coal capacity continuing to expand for decades to come.

I don't know which part of Australia you live in, but here in Victoriastan and everywhere else in Oz coal will be king for a long long time. There are no 24 hour baseload renewables around or on the horizon. To think otherwise is nothing more than magical thinking. The only real way to reduce our carbon emissions is nuclear and I can't see that happening in the short to medium term. I still don't get what is meant by 'renewable' the manufacturing processes involved in making most renewable generating capacity are not renewable and are fairly environmentally unfriendly.

Sfw, right next door to Victoria is South Australia which now generates electricity equal to about 40% of its consumption from wind and solar and its renewable capacity is increasing. And in case you hadn't noticed Australia did reduce its carbon emissions without nuclear power. And as for baseload power, South Australia has gone for more than a season at a time without any operating baseload generating capacity and without electricity imports providing power in a way similar to a baseload generator, that is more or less continuously. And even in Victoria with the lowest retail electricity prices in Australia and the least sunshine of any mainland state, rooftop solar provides electricity at a lower cost than the grid.

So all's well in Ozzyland? Without Googling it, I recall late last year or this year the central government lost on a Green Pledge that was unpopular. The woman lost to Ruddman? the redneck. This contradicts your rosy Green Aussie blub.

Ronald, we keep going over your garbage. It is not true.

South Australia is a basket case that is close to economic collapse. In part because the previous government invested so much into renewables. South Australia has had brief peaks when wind comes close to 40% of its power, but in reality, it is closer to 25%:

As of August 2014, there was an installed capacity of 1,473 MW, which accounts for 27 per cent of electricity production in the state.

But notice this is an installed capacity. It says little about what it does generate.

Australia is not reducing carbon emissions.

South Australia has a lot of baseload generation. It runs two coal fired power stations in Port Augusta - Northern and Playford B. It runs six gas fired stations - including the massive Torrens Island.

South Australia continues to be highly dependent on electricity imports from Victoria and New South Wales - coal fired power too.

Rooftop solar does not provide cheaper power.

You have been told these are all untrue. A brief stroll through Wikipedia would show that they are not true. Why do you lie about these things?

South Australia is an economic basket case? Hmm, I guess that must have happened when no one could find that oil you said the state was producing, So Much For Subtlety. Having oil wells just disappear like that has got to damage confidence.

South Australia has increased its wind capacity through the tricky method of building a large new wind farm. The turbines were actually up and running in August, but it wasn't officially opened then.


South Australia now produces electricity from wind equal to about one third its total consumption and generates about 6% of its total electricity use from rooftop solar. And doing the complex maths that comes to a total of about 40% from wind and solar.

Here you can see the reductions in emissions from the electricity sector in Australia: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/emissions-soar-as-carbon-price-dumped-more-coal-burned-41013

The Playford B coal power station is not operational. The coal Northern Power Station is currently operational, although it used to be seasonal load following as it would be switched off in winter after our carbon price was introduced as it wasn't profitable to run. But there's no more carbon price now. And it's summer.

Rooftop solar does not provide cheaper power? You could have fooled me. The last system I installed cost me $1.32 Australian a watt and appears to operate at about 20% capacity. Mind you, it is in a good location. Anyway, the average cost of installed rooftop solar in Australia before subsidy or tax is around $1.90 US a watt and we pay an average of about 25 US cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity. Here's a link to solar costs in Australia, I'll let you do the maths yourself:


And no, I'm not lying. The situation I described is the current reality. So Much For Subtlety, you can follow the links, do some checking of your own, and conclude that what I am saying is correct or you can continue to bluster and splutter on the internet as if indignation is going out of style, but what ever you decide it will not actually change what is happening in the world today.

Ronald, if South Australia has found a few thimble fulls of oil, it would be great. Good for them. But it is not going to help a rust-belt economy with the oldest mainland population. It is dying with no evidence of any recovery, or even hints at a recovery, any time soon.

So they continue to build wind farms? Good for them. At some point they will have to stop digging their own grave but it is irrelevant. They cannot afford this much longer. As wind is not cheap and the State is simply blowing what little credit they have left.

And no, you do not understand what you are talking about. They have installed capacity equal to about 33% of their consumption. But the wind does not blow all the time, nor does the sun shine all the time. A good rule of thumb is that on average you get a third of installed capacity. As I said, they remain heavily dependent on the inter-connectors with Victoria and NSW.

"Here you can see the reductions in emissions from the electricity sector in Australia: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/emissions-soar-as-carbon-price-dumped-more-coal-burned-41013"

Great. So you admit you lied. You claimed reductions. Your little Green propaganda sheet is claiming reductions from electricity generation. Not. The. Same. Thing.

Alinta Energy thinks that Playford B is still running. I would be inclined to believe them.

"Rooftop solar does not provide cheaper power? You could have fooled me."

Some replies just write themselves don't they?

"The last system I installed cost me $1.32 Australian a watt and appears to operate at about 20% capacity. Mind you, it is in a good location."

In other words, after massive subsidies, your solar is not cheaper. It relies on coal fired power. In fact it is little more than a toy to make you feel good about yourself.

"And no, I’m not lying. The situation I described is the current reality."

No it is not. And you have been told. Repeatedly. You have been given links. Repeatedly. You know this is not true. And yet you keep claiming it.

Good points Ronald.

Outside of niche applications, solar really doesn't have much of a future simply because sunlight is too diffuse, too unreliable, and only on half the time.

Solar is still a great niche application for calculators and satellites, it's just not a baseline option.

Sorry, I meant good points So Much for Subtlety. Mea culpa.

TallDave, it's not uncommon for rooftop solar to supply over a third of all electricity use around noon in South Australia. I don't think that counts as a calculator and satellite kind of a niche.

"New coal capacity simply can’t compete with new renewable capacity":
On which planet are you living? Perhaps in your virtual green world, but as a matter of facts, coal is the CHEAPEST energy source so far. Greens refuse to admit this, but reality does not care ideological statements.

Cheapest so long as coal's massive negative externalities remain unincorporated into the price...

Herve D, rooftop solar provides electricity to Australian consumers at a lower cost than grid electricity even without a subsidy or a feed-in tariff. You can follow the link to solar system prices in my comment above and do the maths yourself. Let me know if you need any help. Note that utility scale solar is different as it competes with the wholesale price of electricity, but we don't have much of that here.

And I'll mention there is a considerable difference between the cost of electricity from an existing paid off coal power plant and a coal power plant that hasn't been build yet on account of how the construction costs of an exisiting coal power plant are zero. It is new coal power in China that is most threatened by renewables, existing coal capacity considerably less so.

I'd trust the Chinese a lot more than I'd trust the US, which promised a whole lot of nothing and probably won't even deliver on that. 27% reduction using the high base year of 2005. The European target is 40% using the base year of 1990.

The European base year of 1990 is also a high base year, since it's pre-inefficient Soviet industry collapse. And isn't the European target 20% by 2020? They're offered to increase it to 30% if they can get enough other countries to sign on.

Ah wait, I see that they have recently announced a "40% by 2030" target. You are correct about that, though 1990 is still a high base year, as you can see here. Most of the European decline was achieved from 1990 to 1993, followed by a collapse after 2008.

The target is for the EU as a whole and there is no obligation on individual states (or some such fudge). It can be re-visited at any time and the Poles are ready with a veto if needed. They use a lot of coal. Germany is also starting to have real doubts. Trying to close nuclear power stations was always going tomean more coal. They are also worried about competitiveness. I would not expect much from Europe (I'm in UK)

It's also hard to say green energy is working if that green energy consists of importing wood pellets from the US.


"Worries that rising carbon levels are causing the planet to heat up and weather patterns to shift led to countries around the globe to set limits on carbon discharges by power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year proposed rules for existing power plants that are still being debated, while other countries have had their own rules for several years. By 2030, European Union utilities are supposed to set carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Burning biomass at power plants releases carbon into the atmosphere, just like burning coal does.

But emissions rules already used in Europe treat biomass as “carbon neutral,” basically because trees and other plants that are harvested will grow back and absorb carbon as they do. For Europeans, that makes American forests good as gold."

The European CO2 numbers achieved essentially all of their reduction from 1990 to 1993/4 with Communist industry being shutdown. Then emissions were roughly constant until after 2008, when they collapsed (along with the economy.)

The European number would be much harder to achieve with a base year of 2005 than with 1990, given the same numbers.

Fracking for natural gas reduced US emissions to levels last seen in the 1990s.

Wait you wouldn't rather someone promise nothing and deliver exactly that rather than make up numbers and block the source of good numbers (cough..coming from the U.S. embassy)? Now you're just trolling.

"When will China reverse its carbon emissions?" When it falls back into an era of civil wars. So sometime between a week next Friday and 2020.

I understand why a lot of reporters want to “clutch at straws” — it’s good for both clicks and the conscience — but a dose of realism is required as well. The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release.

As Glenn Reynolds says, Democratic operatives with by-lines. They wanted to give Obama a nice puff piece. Change some bad headlines. Most journalists are capable of enough critical thought to know this is garbage. China couldn't stop carbon emissions even if it wanted to. But it won't stop them being hacks.

I don't think it is so simple. Many people have a lot mentally invested in the idea that we have to stop global warming. If emissions in China cannot be reduced in a reasonable timeframe, this makes the whole effort futile. Thus, this just won't fit into people's world view. They have to believe that a deal like this has the possibility of being real.

It's not just about Obama. I think the appettite on the left for writing (and reading) puff pieces on him is seriously diminished, anyway.

When I saw "carbon levels falling in 2030" in the articles I assumed everyone else, like me, knows that's full of hooey.

Like a President declaring a Moon base or Mars base for 20 years from now, ain't happenin'.

An goal that's listed as 15 years in the future, but doesn't require at least 1/3rd of the reduction in the first 5 years, is probably an empty promise. I'm sure there are exceptions, but they are not the norm.

This is beyond renewable energy. Combustion is one among many particulate matter sources. Open pit mines, construction, soils without vegetation are others sources of deadly PM10. China has the largest cement industry in the world. Controlling PM10 emissions for cement production is not a technological challenge but surely is a compliance nightmare. Even the lowest employees in the chain must be conscious of their impact in PM reduction and motivated to do it.

Fair to pour some cold water on this, there's nothing binding, the timeframe is long, etc. But it does represent a change in stance by the Chinese, which is hugely important given China's share of carbon emissions. Publicly acknowledging that they need to be a part of the solution is an important step, and perhaps a coup for Obama.
Additionally, reducing smog, particulate matter, and other 'visible' forms of air pollution will often come about by the same mechanisms (less coal-fired generation, more efficient car fleets) that reduce CO2 emissions. In the US, the EPA's non-carbon coal plant regulations over the last few years have been a big part of the reduction in CO2 emissions.

Sort of. Except that prior estimates already had China peaking in 2030 by doing nothing, so it's difficult to see this more as simply stating that what was going to happen will happen.

Frankly, people willing to praise China on this should be equally willing to praise George W. Bush's record on climate change, reducing carbon intensity, reducing smog, particulate matter, more efficient car fleet standards, and so on. And in general people should admit that there's very little difference between what's actually happened under Democratic or Republican Presidents on air pollution and climate change, regardless of rhetoric on either side.

Oh, we do credit W for such things as banning light bulbs and providing funding for Solyndra, but Republicans want to blame those on Obama. Even W's push for new nuke plants in Georgia is blamed on Obama and the Atlanta Tea Party is opposed to Obama's nukes and favors rooftop solar.

Of course, Bush promised to do cap and trade in 2000 and then broke his promise and that killed his prospects of creating jobs restoring capitalism to the US power sector. Instead, Cheney conspired with the fossil fuel industry on government run pillage and plunder energy that constrained supply to drive huge profits and kill jobs.

Note the attack on Obama: the increase in oil and gas was done by the private sector on private land, not by the government on government land, like when Cheney was busy cutting production to drive up profits.

But driving up profits on oil and restricting supply was good for getting the high CAFE standards the entire industry has committed to and is now heavily invested in, we credit Bush with giving oil companies and Saudis to impose 100% private taxes on American consumers. But the same could have been accomplished with a $50 a barrel carbon tax.

I've heard "at least China is acknowledging the problem" many times before, so I don't think they can get credit this time for finally admitting to eventually do something someday.

Probably the best China could do would be to focus heavily on nuclear. A few thousand nuclear plants in china would drive standardization and reduce costs and demonstrate safety that might finally made some dent in the anti-nuclear opinion in US and Germany.

Not when its orders of magnitude cheaper to open more coal plants they won't.

Coal is more expensive in China than the US and building nuclear power plants is cheaper. So the differential isn't that large.

And even in the US the difference in costs isn't anywhere near "order of magnitude".

Existing Coal is roughly $40/Mwh versus existing Nuclear at $60/Mwh


However, "new" nuclear is projected to be $96/Mwh. Still, even looking at new nuclear versus existing coal it's only a 2 to 1 difference.

Chinese coal reached a 7 year low and they've cut production this year. Maybe its not orders of magnitude, but if it was as close as Wikipedia says it is why haven't they tried it?


As of September 2014, the People's Republic of China has 21 nuclear power reactors operating on 8 separate sites and 28 under construction.[1][2][3] Additional reactors are planned, providing 58 GWe of capacity by 2020.[1] China's National Development and Reform Commission has indicated the intention to raise the percentage of China's electricity produced by nuclear power from the current 2% to 6% by 2020 (compared to 20% in the USA and 74% in France).[4][not in citation given] However, rapid nuclear expansion may lead to a shortfall of fuel, equipment, qualified plant workers, and safety inspectors.[5][6]

Is nuclear expensive in China? Presumably they don't face the same regulatory and legal costs we do, so they could do exactly the same thing in terms of technology and safety at a fraction of the cost.

Nuclear power is expensive in the US largely because of the bill for the lawyers.

The TPM in China isn't just a local issue, although its direct effects are more visible there. Prevailing winds are to the NE out of China. Google black pools ice sheet to see where that particulate matter ends up and the effect it has.

I think everyone should be skeptical anytime any nation commitments to do something over decades that they really don't know how to do, and will cause difficult changes. No one knows if it even CAN be done.

When nations commit to these kinds of things they are either doing it for show, never intending to do it, or they are signaling that they will TRY. So the real question is do you believe that China is going to seriously try ?

Personally, I believe that they are sincere, that they will try, because that is the rational choice, and they are already facing tangible negative impacts of pollution.

The importance of China signaling that they will be working in the right direction of decades to come should not be diminished.

"The importance of China signaling that they will be working in the right direction of decades to come should not be diminished."

Only if they are signaling it because they actually intend to do it. One shouldn't ignore that they get short-term benefit from signaling this, apart from any intent to do anything. They potentially get the good will of the West and Obama (who knows, Obama may have already privately agreed to something in return), plus this makes them look like big players on the world stage and reduces their pariah status.

It is unlikely that there will be any consequence decades from now if they do nothing (apart from the sea level rising and flooding the whole country, then freezing into ice so wolves can come and ravage their cities, of course), but they get benefit now. This is good reason to be skeptical.

"China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them"

So never, then.

Beijing air quality is especially bad because of the dust coming from the West. Urban planning led to much industrial activity being encouraged to relocate outside of high density population areas, so technically that activity is from "neighbouring" areas, but really they are more like suburbs of Beijing (consider that they are building a ginormous ring road 7 now). In bad air times, even license plates drive on even days and odd numbers on odd days.

Basically, most of Beijing's air quality problem is from Beijing, except for the dust, and except for that that was basically moved to the suburbs, even if sometimes that's technically outside of the administrative jurisdiction of Beijing.

Air quality data is notoriously meddled with in China. Not the same thing, but consider that when the use silver nitrate to bring the rain out of the sky on parade days, that the government outright lies about it even though you can see plain as day in the sky exactly what they are doing.

Probably the easiest thing to do for air quality in China is to require modern scrubs on coal facilities. They already tax the begeesus out of driving via what is probably the highest licensing fees in the world, especially for licenses which can be used to drive between cities.

Not quite carbon emissions, but they are all very related issues.

Unlike today's economists, the Chinese understand capitalism and know that capitalism creates jobs by building productive capital assets. If you lack the labor required to be fully capitalistic, you engage in pillage and plunder of the capital assets of others.

Its surprisingly easy to get permission to take the assets of others and burn them. Mitch McConnell is desperate to export Kentucky to China to be burned, and the oal companies have figured out who to pillage Kentucky with a fraction of the workers they needed in 1980. China saves labor burning Kentucky and Kentucky ends up with wasteland.

But China is faced with yet more years where it can't export enough to keep putting new workers leaving the farms to work in factories to import capital to burn.

Thus, employing the labor building wind and solar harvesting capital assets will put all the surplus labor to work, and that will produce energy that does not require offsetting exports to nations that are not doing well.

That's to US and EU policy, China has become a leading manufacturer of solar and wind capital, so its next step is only to fully learn constructing farms and management.

Globally, wind and solar capacity has doubled every 12-18 months for about a decade. That means the manufacturing capacity has doubled every 12-18 months in China.

Wind power on short capital cost recovery schedules is at parity with coal plants with long capital cost recovery. Thus, building wind farms is at parity with building a new coal power plant. In the US, only coal power plants built decades ago can compete with wind power because their capital cost has already been paid for in depreciation.

Even existing power plants are having problems competing because the rail networks no longer have the capacity to supply coal to them - abandoned rail lines have reduced redundancy and the increased use of rail for other goods is driving up prices for carrying coal to levels that make it uncompetitive. Exporting coal requires more than upgrading ports - the rail lines need significant upgrades as well, and many communities can not abide long coal trains disrupting traffic for long periods during the day. Rerouting rail lines and building overpasses is a hundred million cost for every large community along the way. Coal advocates will argue that the lives of people along the rail line should be disrupted for coal because 10 coal mining jobs are worth 5000 people being stuck in traffic for half an hour waiting for a coal train to go through several times a day - pillage and plunder.

Imagine that China could choose one of the following scenarios:
A. Cut CO2 emissions by 25%
B. Reduce particulate air pollution by 25%.

Something tells me the people of Beijing would prefer option B over option A even if the world as a whole would prefer that China selects option A.

Fortunately there is some overlap between the two goals (cutting coal consumption would help out on both counts) but there are other cases where additional pollution controls would help local air quality but hurt the global climate.

E.g., energy intensive pollution scrubbers on coal plants will require the consumption of MORE coal even as soot emissions and local air quality improves dramatically. Catalytic converters are great for reducing NOx emissions but they hurt fuel economy and drive up CO2 emissions per mile driven by around 10%.

The goals overlap, and might well make a difference if China has access to large supplies of natural gas. I note the China and Russia recently signed agreements that will make China Russia's largest customer.

Reporters are stupid for the most part. Politicians like Obama count on that. Reporters are sort of like whores who don't charge for the service.

Not so fast - China has a few reasons to reduce CO2. Air pollution is one driver. Economic liberalization is another. China produces 60% of the worlds concrete, steel, iron and aluminum - almost all from State Owned Enterprises all powered by coal (also mostly state owned.) Much of this is subsidized, inefficient and heavily polluting. In order to move up the development curve China needs to move more capital from its heavy industrial base and into services and smaller more entrepreneurial firms. Reducing its share of the worlds heavy industry from 60% to 40% would result in steep carbon reductions - and do wonders for the air where the problem is less pollution from new power plants and more from old coal powered heavy industry.

Also, the commitment of 20% clean energy is nothing to sneeze at. To reach that goal requires China building one big nuclear plant every three weeks for 15 years or 4 big wind farms a week until 2030. This IS huge.

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