Who Are The Big 5 In The Carbon Trade?

Originally published on Shrink That Footprint by Lindsay Wilson

When we talk about a country’s carbon emissions we generally only consider those that occur within its borders. But where does the fuel for those emissions come from? And where do the products a country makes go?

In this second part of our series The Carbon Trade we look at who the big traders of carbon are. We’ll analyze the major importers and exporters of fuels and products and in doing so explain much of how carbon moves around the world, both before and after its combustion.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

The Regions Fueling the World

In the first piece of this series, The Globalization of Carbon, we noted that in 2007 traded carbon totaled 17.6 Gt CO2, or 60% of total carbon emissions. More than half of this traded carbon was in the form of fuels, in particular oil and gas.

The big exporters of fuel carbon are those regions and countries that produce more fossil fuels than they use at home.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

The big five fuel exporters are the Middle East, Russia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Australia. Together these five regions export 63% of carbon in traded fuels.

Indeed they are each so rich in fossil fuels in the form of oil, natural gas and coal that each of them export more carbon in fuels than they create through combusting fuels within their borders.

Each tonne of oil, natural gas or coal that is exported by these regions is imported somewhere else. So let’s see where they go.

Living On Foreign Fuel

It is widely known that the US is dependent on foreign oil, so much so they banned crude exports back in the seventies oil shocks. But the US isn’t the only region living off fossil fuels from other regions.

This fact is plain to see when we look at who the big importers of carbon in fuels are.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

When taken together the countries that make up Europe (EU27) import more carbon in the form of fuels than the US. These two regions are the big fuel importers followed by Japan, China and South Korea, based on 2007 data.

Together these five regions import a staggering 71% of all carbon traded as fuels.

China is the World’s Factory

Now that we have seen how carbon is traded before it’s combusted, it is worth looking a how it is embodied in the trade of products after its combustion. For clarity’s sake products in this case means both goods and services though the former dominates.

In the last two decades exports of Chinese made products have exploded, driven on by cheap labour, capital controls and government subsidies. This phenomenon is plain to see in the data for carbon in exported products.’

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

In 2007 the carbon embodied in China’s exports of goods and services totalled 1,556 Mt CO2. About the same as the exports of the United States, Europe and Russia combined.

Although these five regions accounted for a healthy 58% of the trade of carbon embodied in products it is as a general rule less centralized than is the case for fuels.

Europe and the US Buy the World’s Stuff

If China is the big exporter of carbon embodied in products it will surprise few that the US and Europe are the big buyers.

Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.
Image courtesy of Shrink That Footprint.

In 2007 there was 1,514 Mt of carbon dioxide emissions embodied in European imports of goods and services, a quarter of which came from China. The US was the other major importer, followed by Japan, China and the Middle East.

The fact that so much European and American consumption is supported by emissions that occur in other parts of the world highlights the perils of focusing solely on terrestrial emissions for climate policy. The increased outsourcing of carbon intensive production to regions with weaker climate regulation risks undermining the effectiveness of national climate policies.

Such risks also exist regarding carbon in fuels. If factors reducing terrestrial emissions result in increased exports of fuels this can undermine the effectiveness of national action. The more than doubling of US coal exports since 2006 in reaction to the shale boom is a good example of this.

Join us for the final post in the series tomorrow when we Mind the Carbon Gap between country’s extraction, production and consumption totals.

All the data used in this series is based on the recent, and freely downloadable, paper ‘Climate policy and dependence on traded carbon‘ by Robbie Andrew, Steven Davis and Glen Peters. Many thanks to Robbie in particular for providing the data.

This article, Who Are The Big 5 In The Carbon Trade?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

US Uses 11 Times More Energy Than UK

How Does China Do It?

by John Brian Shannon

Why do all the jobs keep going to China? Everyone wants to know.

The Western nations are short of jobs. At present, 150 million jobs have left Europe and North America over the past 40 years and have been relocated to Asia.

This trend has been in play for a few decades, but it began in earnest back in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo caused millions of Americans to purchase economical Japanese cars instead of Detroit’s offerings at the time – the thrilling but thirsty American gas guzzler.

Since that time, not only Japan but South Korea too have exported cars to the Western democracies by the millions. The market share of imported cars registered in 1960’s North America was microscopic but now sits at over 50%. China is now exporting cars worldwide and they are increasing their market share in Western nations.

That about covers the automotive market discussion.

But it is not the entire story. There are other factors at play some of which I will cover below and in future blogs. It’s a big topic… trust me.

For another example, when the West decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) up to one-third of that money is diverted to corporate profit and doesn’t influence the final product.

When communist China decides to design, engineer and build a new fighter plane at a cost of the equivalent of 100 billion U.S. dollars (a hypothetical number, just for comparison purposes) all 100% of that investment goes towards the design, engineering and build quality of the fighter plane.

This is but one example which can be demonstrated many times over. It’s not just fighter jets. Every military ship, airplane, vehicle, guns, ammunition, along with civilian cars and trucks, industrial mining equipment, farm machinery, electronics, railway cars, locomotives and even the railway tracks can be built for less in China.

Communist corporations which do not have to make accommodations for profits have an advantage over ones that must make accommodations for profits. On the hypothetical American example above, 30% of 100 billion U.S. dollars is… drum roll please… 30 billion dollars! That is a lot of R&D money diverted to corporate profit from product testing, build quality – or marketing and advertising which almost always results in more sales.

Anything we can manufacture, China can manufacture at a lower cost when compared to the Western manufactured item. Thirty percent is just the beginning as some items can be manufactured for 1000% less than comparable products in Europe or North America.

During a telephone interview in February, a sitting Member of the Parliament of Canada told me that it is much cheaper for North American oil companies to dig up the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, transport that material to China for refining and then transport it back as finished products to North America.

It’s easy to do some quick math here. The Canadian Enbridge Northern Pipeline is projected to cost over 5 billion dollars if it gets built. The plan is to pipeline the material to Canada’s west coast (highly diluted with petroleum condensate) and ship it across the ocean to China where it can be refined into pure gasoline, motor oil, diesel fuel and other products normally made from conventional petroleum.

Super-tankers will pick up the tar sand/condensate mixture, which is called ‘dilbit’ once it is mixed together into a consistency which will flow through the pipeline system and transport it in that form to China, where new refineries are being built to receive the dilbit material. New Chinese oil refineries cost 1 – 2 billion Canadian dollars (equivalent), while new North American refineries with their higher land, construction, permitting, labour and emission control costs are estimated in the 12 billion Canadian dollar range – which is why no new refineries are planned for North America.

New SuezMax super-tankers cost between 500 and 900 million dollars a copy, depending on how many barrels of oil they carry and whether they are single-hulled ships or an infinitely safer design – the double-hulled super-tanker. Some super-tankers carry over 1 million barrels of toxic dilbit. Expect China to run 24 – 32 new super-tankers between the west coast of Canada and China 365 days per year.

After refining in China, SuezMax super-tankers will return the finished products to North America for distribution throughout the western United States and Canada’s western provinces.

Even with all these additional transportation costs and other activities – the gasoline, diesel and other products will cost 30% less than when compared to Canadian or American oil refineries performing the same refining operations here.

It remains to be seen whether the oil companies will pass along those cost savings to consumers.

John Brian Shannon writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics from British Columbia, Canada. His articles appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint Asia, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, the United Nations Development Programme – and other quality publications.

John believes it is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.

Check out his personal blog at: http://johnbrianshannon.com

Check out his economics blog at: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com

Follow John on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/#!/JBSCanada