West Should Help China Check Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions

by Medindia Content Team on  February 25, 2008 at 11:52 AM Environmental Health
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West Should Help China Check Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The scorching pace of growth China has set is not exactly exciting to those environmentally concerned. Unless the developed West comes forward to help the country check greenhouse gas emissions, the results could be disastrous.

For instance, if the current growth rates continue unchecked, by 2030 the country could be emitting as much carbon into the atmosphere as the entire world does today.

Also China is bringing on line coal-fired power plants - major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions - at the mind-boggling rate of two per week.

Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Others such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) result exclusively from human industrial processes. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by the burning of solid waste, wood and wood products, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal).

Nitrous oxide emissions occur during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned.

Methane is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming.

Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels.

When sunlight strikes the Earth's surface, some of it is reflected back towards space as infrared radiation (heat). The greenhouse gases mentioned above absorb this infrared radiation, trap the heat in the atmosphere and reemit the waves downward causing the temperature of the earth to go up.

And this is called the "greenhouse effect," because of a similar effect produced by the glass panes of a greenhouse, where plants are grown under controlled conditions.

Emissions of two greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide have reached record high, says World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

How China can both cut emissions and grow its economy at the same time "poses one of the greatest challenges of this century," declares a recent analysis in the journal Science.

All the Prius-driving, thermostat-lowering, and light-bulb changing going on in the rest of the world won't count for much unless China can radically reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions. This week, China made clear at a discussion of climate change at the United Nations that it considers itself a "victim" of global warming rather than one of the "culprits" causing it - i.e., the world's rich nations.

While China promises to play a positive role in battling the problem, Ambassador Yu Qingtai said, it should not be expected to be bound by the same caps on emissions as a "developed country."

Still, China is making some important strides. Already, for example, China is reforesting vast areas, despite receiving little international help in doing so. (Forests help absorb carbon-dioxide emissions.) China's forest cover increased from 12 percent in 1980 to 18 percent today, and should reach 26 percent by 2050. China also set a goal to reduce the energy intensity (the energy consumed to create each unit of gross domestic product) of its industries by 20 percent between 2006 and 2010.

If the world warms, China has much to lose: If sea levels on the Chinese coast rise just three feet due to warming - a real possibility by the end of the century - three big industrial regions will be flooded. That amounts to some 35,000 square miles, larger than the state of South Carolina.

Research also suggests that by 2030, climate changes such as more severe droughts stand to reduce Chinese agricultural output by 5 to 10 percent.

How, then, can the world influence China, a nation with one-fifth of the planet's population, a nation that has already passed the US to become the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases?

Engaging China in joint projects to develop technological solutions, such as alternative energy sources, is one possibility, feels the Christian Science Monitor.

China's dependence on its vast coal reserves makes it imperative that new ways are found to capture and bury carbon emissions from coal plants.

China has massive energy needs and must make a "great leap forward" in the way it meets them. Chinese leaders will be looking to the United States both to see what it is willing to do to help China and what sacrifices of its own it is willing to make.

Whoever wins the White House next fall must consider China and its energy-climate dilemma in coming up with a US carbon strategy.

Source: Medindia

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