For yet more evidence that a global carbon treaty will never work, read a recent post on Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog, which reports that China’s official statistics on carbon emissions may be significantly understating the real numbers. Researchers found that China’s reported growth rate in emissions of 7.4 percent is 1 percent lower than numbers accumulated at the local level would suggest. This discrepancy amounts to a difference of 1.4 gigatons per year. That’s the equivalent of the entire carbon output of Japan — the second largest economy in the world.As Klein points out, local and national authorities have different reasons to fudge the numbers:
Alternatively, there’s the possibility that government officials are massaging the data. Local politicians, for instance, are promoted based on their economic performance. So they have an incentive to overstate growth—and then revise the emissions data so that it matches. (The researchers note that the “carbon gap” between national and local data lines up pretty well with a similar “GDP gap” in the statistics.) But that’s not all. Satellites have also turned up evidence that the national government in Beijing may be understating some coal activity—possibly in order to claim success on its environmental laws.
Without a powerful international regulatory agency, there will be no reliable way to prevent countries besides just China to engage in this kind of deceitful statistics reporting. And if the chances for a global climate treaty are already low, as Via Meadia has noted time and again, the chances for a strong global regulatory agency are lower still. Countries like Russia, China and even India are much too suspicious to allow international inspectors that kind of unfettered access to their production sites and data.And Chinese statistics are both robust and transparent compared to statistics in places like Nigeria and Bangladesh where governments lack the capacity as well as the will to gather this kind of data with any accuracy at all.The world won’t be able to come to grips with its serious environmental issues until green groups finally grow up and realize it’s time to stop playing “Let’s Pretend.”