Evaluating China's anthropogenic CO2 emissions inventories: a northern China case study using continuous surface observations from 2005 to 2009


Archana Dayalu, J. William Munger, Yuxuan Wang, Steven C. Wofsy, Yu Zhao, Thomas Nehrkorn, Chris P. Nielsen, Michael B. McElroy, and Rachel Chang. 2020. “Evaluating China's anthropogenic CO2 emissions inventories: a northern China case study using continuous surface observations from 2005 to 2009.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Publisher's Version
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China has pledged reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 60 %–65 % relative to 2005 levels, and to peak carbon emissions overall by 2030. However, the lack of observational data and disagreement among the many available inventories makes it difficult for China to track progress toward these goals and evaluate the efficacy of control measures. To demonstrate the value of atmospheric observations for constraining CO2 inventories we track the ability of CO2 concentrations predicted from three different CO2 inventories to match a unique multi-year continuous record of atmospheric CO2. Our analysis time window includes the key commitment period for the Paris Agreement (2005) and the Beijing Olympics (2008). One inventory is China-specific and two are spatial subsets of global inventories. The inventories differ in spatial resolution, basis in national or subnational statistics, and reliance on global or China-specific emission factors. We use a unique set of historical atmospheric observations from 2005 to 2009 to evaluate the three CO2 emissions inventories within China's heavily industrialized and populated northern region accounting for ∼33 %–41 % of national emissions. Each anthropogenic inventory is combined with estimates of biogenic CO2 within a high-resolution atmospheric transport framework to model the time series of CO2 observations. To convert the model–observation mismatch from mixing ratio to mass emission rates we distribute it over a region encompassing 90 % of the total surface influence in seasonal (annual) averaged back-trajectory footprints (L_0.90 region). The L_0.90 region roughly corresponds to northern China. Except for the peak growing season, where assessment of anthropogenic emissions is entangled with the strong vegetation signal, we find the China-specific inventory based on subnational data and domestic field studies agrees significantly better with observations than the global inventories at all timescales. Averaged over the study time period, the unscaled China-specific inventory reports substantially larger annual emissions for northern China (30 %) and China as a whole (20 %) than the two unscaled global inventories. Our results, exploiting a robust time series of continuous observations, lend support to the rates and geographic distribution in the China-specific inventory Though even long-term observations at a single site reveal differences among inventories, exploring inventory discrepancy over all of China requires a denser observational network in future efforts to measure and verify CO2 emissions for China both regionally and nationally. We find that carbon intensity in the northern China region has decreased by 47 % from 2005 to 2009, from approximately 4 kg of CO2 per USD (note that all references to USD in this paper refer to USD adjusted for purchasing power parity, PPP) in 2005 to about 2 kg of CO2 per USD in 2009 (Fig. 9c). However, the corresponding 18 % increase in absolute emissions over the same time period affirms a critical point that carbon intensity targets in emerging economies can be at odds with making real climate progress. Our results provide an important quantification of model–observation mismatch, supporting the increased use and development of China-specific inventories in tracking China's progress as a whole towards reducing emissions. We emphasize that this work presents a methodology for extending the analysis to other inventories and is intended to be a comparison of a subset of anthropogenic CO2 emissions rates from inventories that were readily available at the time this research began. For this study's analysis time period, there was not enough spatially distinct observational data to conduct an optimization of the inventories. The primary intent of the comparisons presented here is not to judge specific inventories, but to demonstrate that even a single site with a long record of high-time-resolution observations can identify major differences among inventories that manifest as biases in the model–data comparison. This study provides a baseline analysis for evaluating emissions from a small but important region within China, as well a guide for determining optimal locations for future ground-based measurement sites.


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Last updated on 09/01/2020