banner -
How UK targets might influence China

How UK targets might influence China

This section looks at the history of UK emissions compared to our population growth. Using this we can see how our emissions grew to a per capita level of nearly 12 tonnes CO2 per person per year. It is very important to consider this when thinking about the emissions targets that we would want China to set. Using the principals conceived in the GCI's Contraction & Convergence model, we can develop emissions projections for China showing that they will grow for a few years before we can persuade them to be cut.

UK emissions targets in context

This graph was developed in the discussion on UK emissions targets. It shows what our targets look like in perspective with recent emissions.

Emissions graph

History of UK emissions

To understand what our emission reductions targets mean for the rest of the world, first we need to understand UK emissions from a historical perspective. The following figure shows a stack of 3 graphs, with UK data from 1800 to 2000. [i]

  • The top graph shows UK carbon dioxide emissions. These data are from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC), which miss some of the smaller emission sources (they should be only 2-3% lower though). You can see the steady rise in emissions from the 1850s to First World War. There is a dip in the 1920s, and then they rise to a peak in the 1970s.
  • The middle graph shows how the UK population has risen: from about 13 million in 1800, to just under 60 million by the year 2000. Data from 1950 onward are from United Nations[i] and pre-1950 I have used estimates from UK National Statistics Report on UK population: past, present and future.
  • The final trend in annual emissions per capita (i.e. per person). Notice that this rose through the 19th century: from 2 to nearly 12 tonnes CO2-eq per person per year. Throughout the 20th century, the figure stayed high, only starting to come down from the late 1980s.
Emissions graphs

For such a small country (1% of the global population) our emissions are very high. In 1990, we were responsible for 2.5% of global carbon emissions - making us the 8th largest contributor!

UK vs. China

There are two reasons why I have chosen China as a country to compare emissions with.

  • Firstly, there is a popular argument of despair along the lines of: "...what is the point of us cutting our emissions when China is emitting so much more carbon dioxide than us...putting new coal-fire power stations on line every week or so...etc..." - is that really a fair argument?
  • Secondly, there I see a historic similarity between our two countries. We were a manufacturing hub of the world in the industrial revolution, and you can see the influence of that on our historic emissions. China has that mantle in this modern world...think about how much clothing, electronic goods and other stuff you buy has a "Made in China" label.

The following stack of 3 graphs compares UK and China: emissions, population and finally emissions-per-capita. They show the period from about 1950 to 2005.

  • You can see that UK CO2 emissions were higher than China until the 1970s.
  • Our population was dwarfed by China's throughout the period. In 2005 China had a population of 1.3 billion people, which is 22 times more than the UK.
  • China's emissions have recently overtaken the USA, to make them the largest global emitter of CO2. However, as a consequence of its massive population, its emissions per person are still below half of what we enjoy in the UK.
Emissions graph

The "Contraction & Convergence (C&C)" model

I first found out about the concept of Contraction & Convergence (C&C) in about 2005, when I was updating my knowledge on climate change. C&C is a fair solution to what is obviously a global problem: how do we agree targets to reduce emissions of CO2. The model was designed by Aubrey Mayer of the Global Commons Institute (GCI), and has received a lot of support from scientists and politicians around the world.

The C&C model is described in the GCI's Carbon Countdown document. The basic premise is that economically well developed countries, with high emissions (e.g. Western Europe and USA), will cut down between now and a convergence date (e.g. 2030). Less well developed countries can grow their economies (and hence emissions) up to this convergence point, which is only fair. And at this convergence point all countries will have the same emissions per capita (i.e. per person). From the convergence point we all contract (i.e. cut down) our emissions together [i] to stabilise CO2 at an agreed concentration in the atmosphere.

The following diagram is taken from the Carbon Countdown document. It shows an example of the Contraction & Convergence of emissions that would stabilise CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 ppm (parts per million). [i] Ten years have gone by from the start of the model run presented, and international agreement has not been in place to meet the targets implied. Whilst that might make the possibility of stabilising CO2 in the atmosphere at 450 ppm unlikely, the concept is still very useful for whatever future negotiations we have to agree emissions reductions targets.


When would we converge with China?

The following figure shows a bar chart of UK CO2: with solid bars for the historic emissions (from 1950 to 2005); and shaded bars showing our future emissions, on the assumption that we meet out 2020 and 2050 targets. These relate to the values on the right-axis. Overlaying the bar chart are lines of UK and China per capita emissions - these relate to the values on the left-axis.

  • The green line of UK per capita emissions has been extended to 2050 by using: the emission targets (from the bars) and the UN population projections for the country.
  • The red line of China's per capita emissions has been extended on the assumption that they converge with UK per capita emissions in 2025...which looks visually sensible.
Emissions graph

The following figure shows what China's emissions will look like as a consequence of the per capita trend developed above.

  • This has been converted into CO2 emissions by multiplying: the per capita emissions, with the UN population projections for the China.
  • If China followed those emissions: they would peak at 7800 Mt CO2-eq (i.e. million tonnes of CO2 per year) by 2025; and then reduce emissions rapidly by about 190 Mt CO2-eq per year.
Emissions graph

Return to main Emissions Targets page

[xhtml][css]© Chris Beales 2006-10[info][top]