China is the greatest source of growth in global warming emissions and will remain the biggest single cause for decades to come, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its annual report.
In its World Energy Outlook for 2007, the Paris-based organization, which promotes energy cooperation among 26 industrialized countries, focused on China and India as emerging economies.
Under current policies, the group said, global energy demand is likely to rise by 55 percent from 2005-2030, with China and India together accounting for 45 percent of the total demand. Eighty-four percent of that increase will be accounted for by carbon-emitting fossil fuels, said the report.
The forecast is even more troubling for emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the gas linked to global warming. By 2030, the world’s output of CO2 is expected to rise by 57 percent. China’s share of that growth will be 42 percent over the next 25 years, the study said.
In an interview, Philips Andrews-Speed, director of the Center for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy at Scotland’s University of Dundee, said that China’s contribution to global warming is to be expected.
“It represents 20 percent of the world’s population, it’s the fastest-growing large economy in the world, it’s energy intensive, it uses a very large proportion of coal, and there are a lot of poor people still who have yet to take advantage of this economic growth.”
Beijing’s leaders would be unlikely to restrain the growth of China’s economy for the benefit of the global environment, Andrews-Speed said.
“The idea that they would voluntarily reduce economic growth and the rate of development or poverty alleviation in order to satisfy the rest of the world is a non-starter, certainly given the present political structure in China.”
But Mikkal Herberg, research director of the Asian Energy Security Program at the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research, said that the increases coming from China make a strong case for constraints.
The dire predictions of the IEA report may be avoided if China implements major policy changes over the next five to 10 years to manage energy demand, increase efficiency, and reduce reliance on coal, Herberg said.
“That’s going to require a very fundamental policy shift in China. It’s going to take some time to achieve. But without that, you’re not going to be able to escape what are the basic conclusions of this, which is an enormous increase in demand and emissions and all the problems that are going to come with that.”
Herberg said that China may face a series of consequences, such as shortages of resources and water supplies, that force it to make dramatic changes in its policies.
“Over the next five to 10 years, as these local pollution and other environmental problems coming from this energy trajectory begin to really bind, I think that’s when the leadership will begin to really consider fundamentally new strategies.”
A U.N. panel has meanwhile predicted disastrous results, especially for the world’s poor, if global warming goes unchecked.
Meeting on Nov. 12 in Valencia, Spain, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that millions will suffer from hunger, thirst, disease, and floods unless steps are taken soon.
Rising sea levels, stronger storms, spreading deserts, and loss of mountain snow are already visible as signs of global warming, the group said in a report. But tools can be found to slow the pace of warming and soften its effects, the group said.
Original reporting by Michael Lelyveld. Edited for the Web with additional reporting by Richard Finney.