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Predicting Emissions
How China Is Wrecking Climate Models

Late last month the MIT Technology Review published a surprising graph that purported to show global carbon emissions actually fell slightly in 2015. That news has since been tempered by new data from a monitoring station in Hawaii that shows last month’s average CO2 readings posted an all-time record increase from the year prior. Clearly our carbon concerns have not been laid to rest quite yet.

But there’s still something to be learned from the MIT Technology Review’s figure—specifically with regards to China’s role as a major global emitter going forward. Industrial and fossil fuels-related emissions fell slightly less last year thanks in large part to China’s stumbling economy and its slow move away from coal (one study claims Chinese coal consumption fell 3.7 percent in 2015, at the cost of 1.8 million jobs to boot). Another study from researchers at the London School of Economics suggests that Chinese carbon emissions are due to peak a lot sooner than most climate models predict, and in fact may have peaked already.

So have we already seen “peak carbon” in China? If we’re right that there’s been a manufacturing bubble in China, and that future growth in China will be both less swift and less concentrated in manufacturing than many analysts have supposed, that’s a big reason for thinking this could be at hand. The assumptions hardwired into climate projections about China’s growth—both in terms of the pace and type of growth—were wrong.

There’s reason to think this current downturn in commodities and manufacturing is more than cyclical, and that we are unlikely to see a return to the supercharged rates of manufacturing growth that China hit in the last couple of decades. This has major implications for commodity production and use of raw materials as well. The excess capacity in mining for example may take a long time to be used up, and we may see less mining and less energy extraction than now expected as these trends work out.

While this may be speculative, we do know that the carbon models in most common use are based on outdated thinking about both the composition and the rate of China’s growth. If, as virtually all experts now believe, China is going to be growing more slowly and less of its growth will be in manufacturing, a major recalculation of the greenhouse emission projections is needed—and not just for China, but for other developing countries which will be moving along similar arcs away from manufacturing. And that revision will be downward.

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  • Andrew Allison

    As recently acknowledged by he of the broken hockey-stick, the climate models were quite sufficiently wrecked without China. The now-accepted hiatus began almost 20 years ago while China’s emissions were rising dramatically. A word about the Hawaii measurements: they are an indicator of Chinese emissions, not global atmospheric CO2. The prevailing winds are West to East and, thanks to photosynthesis, N. America is a carbon SINK.

  • Fat_Man

    Sorry. China is an irrelevant detail in determining how much CO2 is measured in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    The oceans contain about 50 times more CO 2 than the atmosphere. Warm water holds less CO2 than cold water, as anybody who has ever opened a warm can of soda has found out.

    Over the last year, the surface of the eastern Pacific has warmed because of El Nino, a cyclical phenomena. Of course, that will cause those waters to outgas CO2.

  • Lillian Loran

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  • ddh

    Projections of carbon emissions depend on projections of long-term economic growth, which is usually treated as an exogenous variable. But how accurate are economic models, particularly in projections over decades? GIGO.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “How China Is Wrecking Climate Models”

    Name one “Climate Model” that has been correctly predicting Temperatures over the last 19 years. The fact is all of the “Climate Models” have been massively wrong, and all of them have been massively wrong in the same way, predicting higher temperatures when no rise in temperatures is occurring. Any legitimate scientist worthy of the name would have gone back to the drawing board when the data proved his “Hypothesis” was non-predictive and therefore “Wrong”. But not these “Warmists”, who just keep beating this dead horse, and hoping nobody will notice, and cut off their income.

  • Blackbeard

    I believe it was Max Planck who said science advances one funeral at a time. This current crop of “scientists,” and the politicians who exploit their work, will never back down from their global warming hysteria. Already we have had climategate, which exposed their conspiracy, and then we had nearly 20 years of temperature statis, when their models predicted ever climbing temperatures. In addition we have the increasing divergence between surface based temperature measurements and the satellite and radiosonde record. In a real science any one of these scandals would be enough to cause a major retreat and reanalysis. Here the result is denial, data manipulation and suppression of dissent. In 50 or 100 years, when a new generation of scientists exposes this incredible boondoggle, this will be seen as one of the worst scandals in the history of science. It will be too late for us.

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