Story of a meme: Chinese and European emissions

  • 26 Aug 2011, 00:00
  • Christian Hunt

Want to know how memes start? Take this for an example. With European climate politics revolving around whether to have the ambition of reducing emissions 20% or 30% by 2020, Polish environment minister Andrzej Kraszewski (quoting a claim made by the IEA last December ) recently stated

"moving to a 30% CO2 reduction target would be equivalent to the total emissions produced by China in just two weeks".

The claim that efforts to increase Europe's 2020 mitigation goal from 20 to 30% would only amount to two weeks of China's emissions make for a compelling soundbite. But it's wrong. As the calculations below show, the accumulated emission reductions by 2020 would be equivalent to around 11 billion tons of CO2 - more than 75 weeks (1.45 years) of China's emissions.

The data

By 2020, Europe is aiming to reduce CO2 emissions 20% against 1990 levels. This will be increased to 30% if other developed countries commit to similar action.

Here are the relevant stats for European and Chinese emissions - all numbers represent CO2 equivalent emissions in million tons.

Europe's CO2 equivalent emissions in million tons:









And here are China's CO2 equivalent emissions in million tons :



Per week


So how much CO2 is saved if the EU adopts the more ambitious target earlier? The two emissions scenarios are represented in the graph below. Actual emission reductions are equal to the whole shaded area, including the years to 2020 and beyond. (For this calculation it was assumed that both scenarios reach the reduction of 85-90% in 2050, as the EU has pledged.)

Scenario for Europe's Emission Reduction
CO2 equivalent emissions in Mt.
Shaded area: accumulated CO2 savings if 30% target is reached.


A simple integral of the area under the graph shows that the CO2 equivalent GHG reductions from the 20% to the 30% scenario add up to about 11 176,4 million tons. This is equivalent to about 75 weeks of China's current CO2 output - around 17 months worth.

Meanwhile, China is making plans with regard to reducing its own carbon emissions: the country has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity by 45-50% by 2020 . And it has set short-term targets to be achieved by 2015: a 17% cut in carbon intensity and a reduction in energy intensity by 16% .

So, that's the story of how a meme starts. But if you see this one around, you'll know it's wrong.


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