January 14, 2010

China and Per Capita Emissions, Cont.

A while back, I blogged about the difference between China's per capita carbon emissions as a country and those of its most industrialized regions. At the time, I wondered if there was any data for comparing the per capita emissions of cities around the world, or at least between Chinese and Western cities. As it happens, some people have actually done the work on this: a NBER paper (via Richard Brubaker) by a group of Chinese and American researchers, including Ed Glaeser, aims to determine the per household carbon footprint for China's largest cities. It turns out to be fairly complicated: While there's a general relationship between income and emissions levels, it can vary widely. Beijing, for example, is ranked 72nd, but Shanghai 30th -- a difference the study attributes primarily to the use of central home heating. In other words, while some emissions growth is inevitable as a consequence of economic growth, it's by no means inevitable that growth means taking the highest-emissions path. As the authors put it toward the end:
In this paper, we find that some of the patterns of carbon emissions within China replicate findings that hold in the United States and elsewhere. If economic growth takes place in compact, public transit friendly, cool summer, warm winter cities, then the aggregate carbon emissions will increase less than if economic growth takes place in "car dependent" cities featuring hot summers and cold winters and where electricity is produced using coal fired power plants.
The paper also makes some comparison of the per household emissions in Chinese and Americans; unfortunately, Glaeser and company have yet to release the American data, though we do get the tantalizing line that "Even in the dirtiest city (Daqing), a standardized household produces only one-fifth of that in America’s greenest city (San Diego)." For now, the best information we have is Brookings' research on the per capita carbon footprints of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, though obviously the differences in the things being measured make an apples-to-apples comparison using that study and the NBER study impossible.

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