Jul 20, 2012

A da xiang in the room: new emissions data

A fresh report on the world's greenhouse gas emissions shows that a fundamental overhaul of international climate negotiations is needed to restrain global warming.

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

There’s a dà xiàng in the room when it comes to addressing climate change.

Dà xiàng is mandarin for elephant. And if you want to get your head around the latest data on greenhouse gas emissions, you’ll need to look to China.

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166 thoughts on “A da xiang in the room: new emissions data

  1. Steve Grant

    The other elephant in the room is that much of China’s output occurs in the manufacture of goods consumed in Australia, the European Union, the United States and Japan. Perhaps there should also be a graph “Responsible for Emissions” which takes that into account.

  2. MJPC

    Thank you Cathy, interesting report on the science of the bleedingly obvious. The worlds economists will bleat on about continual growth which is just an impossibility when living on a world of both finite resources and finite environmental health.
    The latest Popular Science says it all when it states “There is no longer any question of preventing climate change, the atmosphere is already warming in response to Human generated greenhouse gas emissions”. It’s just a case of how hot will it become and what effects will that have on weather and climate conditions.
    I can recall a forum where Dr David Suzuki stated that that everything Economists predict rarely runs true (ie. predicting the GFC), whereas environmental predictions run true to prediction (ie pollution, environmental degradation, species extinction).
    I am not critical of the Aust Govt Carbon tax; one has to start somewhere but the world is going to have to join together and address the larger issues or it’s adios amigo’s for all our wasteful life styles.

  3. bobm

    So the Dutch report does not include Australia’s “forestry emissions”? That is a shame, since they are NEGATIVE:

  4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Most other countries talk about their emission from the 1990 levels, i.e. a 20% reduction from 1990 levels by 2020.

    Both Liberal and ALP (Alternative Liberal Party), say they are committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by 5% from 2000 levels.

    A look at the graph above of Australia’s emissions quickly shows why Australia is being devious by using the 2000 figure.

  5. Mark Duffett

    In addition to the factors mentioned above, a component of the falls in emissions can be attributed to the ongoing process of deindustrialisation, at least in the EU (euractiv.com/climate-environment/eu-energy-chief-warms-offshore-o-news-513990). Most this capacity is effectively going to China, where it contributes correspondingly to emissions there, making stuff that is exported back to…Europe.

    It would also be instructive to examine which decarbonisation policies have been most successful, and the extent to which they can be emulated elsewhere. One such analysis (thebreakthrough.org/blog/2012/04/which_nations_have_reduced_car.shtml) concluded that “State-led investments in energy technology are the best way to reduce economic dependence on dirty fossil fuels”, at least in developed countries. The most successful: Sweden and France. And China is indeed adopting many of the same approaches. One of these is building significant numbers of atomic power plants, which the article strangely fails to mention.

  6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    BOBM – There is no other rich country which hides behind land clearing.

    That in 1990 we were clearing huge amounts of Queensland means that our forestry emissions for that year were extremely high.

    It was a trick of Howard’s to get this taken into account at the last minute in the Kyoto agreements (this was the “Australia clause”). To Rudd’s shame, when Labor ratified Kyoto, Labor still used this trick to enable Australia to substantially INCREASE its emissions when most other signatories committed to reductions.

    Because Australia is playing such tricks in the international forums we have been a force against climate change action, and Australians should be ashamed of what our governments have done in our name.

  7. bobm


    I tried to link to a graph to explain myself but it didn’t load.

    What I was trying to point out is that forestry (ie wood production) and land clearing are two very different things. Forestry has been and will continue to be a net sequester of carbon over the long term. This is something many green leaning folks seem to have difficulty accepting. Look at climatechange dot gov dot au and search for forestry. It’s all there.


  8. Microseris

    @ BOBM, how exactly does forestry sequester carbon for the long term (required) when a significant proportion of the timber cut goes to woodchips/paper/consumer goods (typically with a life span of 10 years)?

  9. Marty

    @Steve Grant

    I just received the daily mail and was going to log in to make exactly that point! While it’s great that Europe has managed to reduce its emissions through the use of tightened laws on power generation and transportation, the movement of industrial production to China has to have contributed greatly as well. As companies do this, in order to avoid the labour market and environmental legislation that make Western nations worth living in, we have essentially outsources our industrial emissions to China along with our manufacturing jobs. It’s unfair, therefore, to simply point to an increase in Chinese carbon emissions, even if we use the per capita metric, because the outcomes of the processes creating these emissions are consumed elsewhere. If there is going to be an accurate accounting, it would need to incorporate the consumption of people in each nation and the industrial processes required to meet that demand.

  10. mick j

    It isn’t all that difficult despite the reluctance of politicians to listen: Australia needs to levy a CARBON IMPORT TAX, levied only on those countries which refuse to clean up their act, including the third world. The tax is NOT an import tax as such because it will fall away once the nation in question makes a genuine move to improve its emissions.

    We all know that the cry will come up about tariff reprisals but this would not be a tariff. Governments also then protect Australian jobs from the higher cost which Australian manufacturers bear due to our compliance.

    Foreign nations would not like it but then how else do you get nations which are happy to exploit our conscience to make gains for themselves.

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