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Trees struggle with emissions

CHINA'S forests and other vegetation absorbed about a third of the greenhouse gases the country produced in the late 20th century but the rate may now be falling because of a surge in industrial emissions, scientists said.

A study by Peking University said increased summer rains, efforts to plant forests, an expansion of shrubland, shifts in crop use and higher bamboo mass soaked up between 28 and 37 percent of industrial emissions in the 1980s and 1990s.

The study gave the first estimate of the impact of plants in offsetting carbon dioxide emissions in China.

The report, in the journal Nature, also said China's plants and soils soaked up more carbon per square meter than in Europe but less than in the United States.

But a US scientist said the percentage of emissions absorbed by plants was falling because China's industrial emissions were expanding faster than vegetation. Forests cover about 14 percent of China.

"It's dropping like a rock," said Kevin Robert Gurney, a carbon expert at Purdue University in Indiana, who wrote an opinion piece accompanying the Chinese study in Nature.

In 2007 vegetation would have offset just 10 to 15 percent of China's emissions, he said. China is opening a coal-fired power plant at a rate of more than one a week, UN officials say.

Using the International Energy Agency's projections of China's energy use in 2030, that level would be cut to 6 to 8 percent, assuming stable rates of vegetation uptake.

Helps understanding

Vegetation worldwide absorbs 10 to 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from human sources.

The Chinese-led study said the shift by people to cities meant that less firewood and charcoal was being burnt in the countryside, but people were also burning more fossil fuels.

Gurney welcomed the study as a help in understanding China's emissions. "We haven't had a really good handle on Chinese emissions until now," he said.

More than 190 nations aim to agree to a new UN climate treaty by the end of the year that may include credits for policies that slow deforestation.

Under the new treaty, Gurney said, China could only claim credit for a tiny amount of the absorption - those from forest plantings.

The UN Climate Panel says greenhouse gases are heating the planet and will bring more heatwaves, more powerful storms, extinction of animal and plant species and rising ocean levels.


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