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  Lomborg on China
Lomborg´s text criticized by Ole Odgaard

Danish energy consultant Ole Odgaard (pH.D.) has written several books and articles on China. He has lived in China for five years and is an expert on energy and climate related issues in China.

In January 2010, Lomborg had an article dealing with China on the international journalistic web site Project Syndicate.
The article is found on this link.
In this article, Lomborg attempts to explain the Chinese government’s opposition to an expensive global carbon deal. Unfortunately, his article is full of errors and misleading statements, according to the following criticism written by Ole Odgaard.



In Lomborg´s international article written to Project Syndicate he claims that the energy China obtains from renewable sources is minute and will remain so in future. This, he claims, is the explanation why China opposed a global climate deal at COP-15.


Lomborg often contributes to the public debate with challenging points of view, which in my opinion is refreshing. But it has to be based on facts. Lomborg´s article is not.


Lomborg claims – with figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) – that China has practically no renewable energy. But Lomborg includes energy from biomass and waste in the same category as fossil fuels, so biomass and organic waste does not enter into his estimation of renewable energy. Hydropower is not mentioned at all, even if it is one of the most important energy sources in China.


The IEA statistics actually say that renewable energy in the form of biomass & waste, hydropower and other renewable energy (i.e. wind and solar) contributed 12.3 percent of China´s energy consumption in 2007. In other words, in no way a minute contribution.


Lomborg informs us that “The IEA estimates that on its current path, China will get a mere 1.2% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.” It is a mystery how Lomborg has read that out of IEA´s statistics. This figure includes only wind and solar – the most important renewable energy sources such as biomass and hydropower are not included at all. But if they are, renewable energy will contribute nearly 9 percent of the Chinese energy consumption in 2030. That is 7 times more than indicated by Lomborg.


The quick-witted reader may wonder how IEA can expect a falling share of renewable energy in China up to 2030: From 12 % to 9 %. The cause is that Lomborg cites that scenario from IEA where future development is calculated only with the present support schemes and policies – not the future ones. A 20 year period of development will of course be accompanied by new support schemes and policies.


IEA has another scenario which includes the effect of possible new policies. That is, IEA has formulated an ambitious scenario for China which contributes to the limiting of a global temperature rise of maximally 2° C. Here they anticipate an increasing share of renewable energy in China: From 12.2 percent in 2007 to 16.5 percent in 2030. That is, 14 times more than the 1.2 percent for only wind and solar that Lomborg cites selectively.


The increasing share of renewable energy is even more ambitious than the figures show at first sight. For IEA also includes the traditional use in Chinese households of biomass for cooking and heating in their energy statistics. If we restrict ourselves to look only at the modern (non-traditional) use of renewable energy, it made out 7 percent in 2007. China´s official target for the development of the modern energy sector is that this share should rise to 10 percent of the energy use in 2010 and 15 percent in 2020. Thus, renewable energy is a clear Chinese priority, although Lomborg gives us the opposite impression.


Lomborg focuses especially on solar and wind energy. In a reply to me in Danish media, he says this is because these “renewable energy sources are the only ones that can be drastically increased, whereas it is difficult to scale up substantially the old renewable energy sources like waste and biomass”. But IEA presupposes that new hydropower and biomass plants will cover a larger share of the energy use than new solar and wind power plants. This is so in their conservative as well as their optimistic scenario.


Lomborg also mentions that “warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production . . “. But China´s official report on climate changes concludes that production of food will drop by 5 to 10 percent in 2020 and up to 37 percent in 2050 if climate changes continue. Lomborg then refers to a single study which demonstrates the opposite – he has not explained why he refers only to this one and avoids all the others.


Furthermore, Lomborg mentions that CO2 reductions are too expensive, wherefore China is against “spending a fortune battling the problem” But according to IEA, the cost to China from investing in ambitious climate technologies in order to contribute to keeping the global temperature rise at a maximum of 2° C, will be only 0.8 percent of BNP in 2020 and 1.5 percent in 2030.


These are gross extra expenditures for investments. The positive effects in the form of lower expenditures for buying of oil and gas are not subtracted. Neither are the expenditures saved in the health sector due to lower air pollution. These positive effects amount to 0.7 percent of China´s BNP in 2030 – or nearly half of the total extra investment in ambitious climate policies. Other positive effects (e.g. on water pollution) might be included, which then would reduce the costs further. An extra cost of a few permille of BNP cannot be said to be unaffordable. Especially not with the growth rates seen in China today.


When Lomborg claims that CO2 reduction in China will be very expensive, he cites no source. He only refers to a global study – not to studies in China – although Lomborg could have read the opposite in the much respected “World Energy Outlook” from IEA, where the costs, as I mentioned, are stated to be a few permille of China´s BNP in 2030.  But he does use this authoritative source when he needs data for the development of solar and wind energy in China. Thus his use of sources is not consistent, but deliberately selective.


Lomborg´s article has also been printed in the largest English-language newspaper in China `China Daily´ on January 19th. The Chinese must be astonished by the Danish number magic!