Keeping CO2 emissions low in China

| 6th August 2009
Sleeper bus
Ewan drives a coach (and horses) through high-carbon travel...
Ewan journeys south through China, lapping up culture and language, but all the while aware that any train he boards is likely to be effectively coal powered. Coach is it, then...

On my overland journey, there are the 'transit countries' that I never would have thought to visit, and 'destination countries' – the places I feel a real urge to see and experience. Russia's hospitality and poetic soul, and Mongolia's rich and unusual culture were perks of the trip.  The majesty of the steppes and the desert stirred me, but weren't a destination in their own right. For me, China is a 'destination country'. Since this trip's inception, I've been planning to spend some time here, to learn the language and look around a bit, as I travel southward.

By taking relatively short hops, and giving myself a flexible schedule, I've been able to experience more than the inside of train (or plane!). I've stayed in five cities, including majestic and manic Beijing. I've strolled around ancient buddhist caves in Datong, witnessed an almost-total eclipse of the sun (it got very dark!) in cloudy Nanjing,  stayed at a Chan (Chinese Zen) monastery and meditated with the monks in Yangzhou, and volunteered on an organic farm near Shanghai. On top of that I've learned some Mandarin, celebrated my birthday in true Chinese style, and improved my basketball jumpshot. It's like a real holiday, but in doing so I've managed get around 1500km closer to my final destination. I love overland travel!

I hope to talk more generally about China and ecology in a later post, but low carbon travel, of course, has been on my mind as I move around this grand nation. I've managed so far to avoid the effectively coal-powered trains and plumped for buses. They were generally clean, on time, frequent, well occupied but not crowded. The blaring DVDs onboard and pig-ear casserole at the roadside diner are all part of the fun.

Due to coach travel being hyper-efficient, even though I took a meandering route, the carbon emissions, totalled below, were very minor.

China's main innovation as far as coach travel goes is the Wipu Che – the sleeper bus. A regular sized coach is packed with around thirty-five bunk beds, providing a very comfortable and relaxing journey. Still not as efficient as a regular coach, a sleeper bus came in handy for one long haul. I slept like a baby on it, until I was woken in the middle of the night and disembarked at a toll booth outside of Nanjing. I thought the bus would arrive at the city centre around dawn. Clearly my Mandarin needs to improve!

I was excited to see sleeper buses in China. With first-class berths in most sleeper trains being in some cases as inefficient as flying, perhaps we could take a lesson from the Chinese.

CO2 Emissions – Zamyn Ud to Shanghai

Mode Journey Emissions calcs Total emissions
Coach Zamyn Ud - Erlian 20 km x 29g CO2 per passenger kilometre 1 kg CO2
Coach Erlian - Datong 475 km x 29g CO2/pkm 14 kg CO2
Coach Datong - Beijing 346 km x 29g CO2/pkm 10 kg CO2
Sleeper Coach Beijing - Nanjing 1063 km x 43.5 CO2/pkm 46 kg CO2
Coach Nanjing - Yangzhou 85 km x 29g CO2/pkm 2 kg CO2
Coach Yangzhou - Shanghai 250 km x 29g CO2/pkm 7 kg CO2
TOTAL 2239 km 70 kg CO2

Equivalent emissions if I had flown direct 1611 km + 9% routing addition  x 248g ppkm (short haul)                                                                                                           = 435 kg CO2 

Note: I've made an adjustment for the Chinese sleeper coach, but I'm pretty sure that the other coaches are at least as efficient as a National Express coach hence the figure of 29g CO2 ppkm from Defra's methodology paper.


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