Study shows Chinese plants’ CO2 role

A study by Peking University, published in the journal Nature, gives the first estimate of the impact of plants in offsetting carbon-dioxide emissions in China. The country’s forests and other vegetation absorbed about a third of China’s greenhouse gases in the late 20th century, it said, but scientists think the rate may be falling due to a surge in industrial emissions, Reuters reported.


The Chinese study said that increased summer rains, forest-planting efforts, shrubland expansion, shifts in crop use and higher bamboo mass soaked up 28% to 37% of industrial emissions in the 1980s and 1990s. It also found that China’s plants and soils soaked up more carbon per square metre than in Europe but less than in the United States.


However, an American carbon expert said the percentage of emissions absorbed by plants was declining because a surge in China’s economic growth meant that the country’s emissions were expanding faster than its vegetation. “It’s dropping like a rock,” said Kevin Robert Gurney, of Purdue University, of the percentage.


For 2007, vegetation would have offset just 10% to 15% of China’s emissions, Gurney told Reuters. Projections of Chinese energy use in 2030 by the International Energy Agency would cut the level to 6% to 8%, assuming stable rates of vegetation uptake.


Gurney welcomed the study as helping understanding of China, which is about 14% forested. “We haven’t had a really good handle on Chinese emissions until now,” he said.

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