Cement Contributes to China's Bad Climate Rap China, the world's most populous nation, also holds the top spot in another category: carbon dioxide emissions. That's partly because China produces and consumes more cement than the rest of the world combined. Kyle Saunders, a professor at Colorado State University and the editor of the energy blog "The Oil Drum," talks about how cement production relates to global warming.
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Cement Contributes to China's Bad Climate Rap

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Cement Contributes to China's Bad Climate Rap

Cement Contributes to China's Bad Climate Rap

Cement Contributes to China's Bad Climate Rap

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China, the world's most populous nation, also holds the top spot in another category: carbon dioxide emissions. That's partly because China produces and consumes more cement than the rest of the world combined. Kyle Saunders, a professor at Colorado State University and the editor of the energy blog "The Oil Drum," talks about how cement production relates to global warming.

GUY RAZ, host:

Oil prices are high in part because worldwide demand is so high - increasing demand from places like China. And according to a new report out by a Dutch environmental group, China is now the world's leading producer of CO2. That's a gas that causes global warming.

A growing proportion of China's CO2 emissions comes from an unlikely source -cement - or more specifically, the production of cement. The U.S. geological survey estimates that China now makes and uses more cement than the rest of the world combined.

Colorado State University Professor Kyle Saunders runs an energy blog called The Oil Drum, and we asked him what China's doing with all that cement.

Professor KYLE SAUNDERS (Political Science, Colorado State University, Editor, The Oil Drum): China is urbanizing at a rate of one-to-one-and-a-half cities the size of Los Angeles every year. When you think about the sheer population migration from rural areas to small and large cities, that means 20 million to 30 million people are moving into the cities each year.

And if you think about the implications of that, apartments, houses, offices, factories, all those things need to be built, and cement is a fundamental element of that. What's even more interesting is that non-building construction is actually the fastest growing end use of cement.

RAZ: What do you mean by that?

Prof. SAUNDERS: Roads, infrastructure - and just an example: the Three Gorges Dam that's being built - 34 million cubic yards of concrete, which is eight times that used in the Hoover Dam.

RAZ: Now, Professor Saunders, according to recent data by the U.S. Geological Survey, China not only makes about half of all the cement of the world but it doesn't really export it either. In other words, it's using almost all of the cement that it makes, right?

Prof. SAUNDERS: Exactly. Chinese cement production rose from one gigaton of cement in 2005 to 1.3 gigatons in 2007, which is 30 percent increase in two years, which is amazing.

RAZ: Is there any way…

Prof. SAUNDERS: And…

RAZ: …to sort of visualize what that would look like?

Prof. SAUNDERS: Well, we can think about to visualize that in a few different ways. First off, from an environmental angle, when you think about one ton of cement production equals one ton of carbon dioxide produced. That's one way to think about it, and that's a lot of CO2. So, if you think about - we're talking about gigatons - that's an amazing amount of a carbon footprint that's being caused just by this process.

RAZ: Are there any countries that come even close to what China is making?

Prof. SAUNDERS: Not at all. Right now the closest country is actually India, which is producing about .15 of a gigaton a year. And remember, China's producing 1.3 gigatons. So, when you think about it, what's more astonishing to me, is that per capita usage in China beats just about everyone else by several factors. (unintelligible)…

RAZ: China's usage of cement.

Prof. SAUNDERS: Yes. China is using one ton of cement per person. The U.S., in comparison, .3 tons per person; Russia around .5 per person. And just imagine if India ever turned on their economy like China has.

RAZ: Now, of course, when we talk about the world's biggest polluter, China is producing more carbon dioxide than any other country, but per capita the United States is still the world's biggest producer of carbon dioxide.

But if China is industrializing so quickly and producing so much cement, I mean, is there any sort of hope that China's emissions will be reduced any time soon?

Prof. SAUNDERS: In the research that I've done and from what I know about the energy world, no. Because a lot of this growth that we see in Chinese energy usage and coal usage and those sorts of things, it's for the purpose of building a natural infrastructure. And remembering that, you know, many nations around the world and the first world have used a lot of energy over many, many years, well, China's just now trying to build theirs.

And putting this kind of energy usage into play, it's not just about the Olympics. It's not just going to be this short-term phenomenon. People in China and India want the same kind of lifestyle that we do, at least to a certain extent where they have modern conveniences. And you need the infrastructure to have those modern conveniences. So, I see no reason to expect that China's usage will decline any time soon.

RAZ: Kyle Saunders is a professor of political science at Colorado State University, and an editor at the blog The Oil Drum. Professor Saunders, thanks.

Prof. SAUNDERS: Thank you.

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