PLTRPYPLTechnicians make repairs to bitcoin mining machines at a mining facility operated by Bitmain in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
China could end up exceeding its emissions reduction targets as a result of carbon-intensive bitcoin mining, according to a study published this week.
Some 75% of the world’s bitcoin mining is done in China, where there is cheap electricity and relatively easy access to manufacturers who make specialized hardware, according to the study. As a result, the nation’s bitcoin carbon footprint is as big as one of its ten largest cities, the paper claims.
Unlike most forms of currency — issued by a single entity like a central bank — bitcoin is based on a decentralized network and needs to be “mined.”
This takes place when bitcoin transactions, recorded on a public ledger called the blockchain, are “verified” by miners. These miners run purpose-built computers to solve complex mathematical puzzles that effectively allow a bitcoin transaction to happen; the miners then receive bitcoin as a reward.
This mining on computers uses vast amounts of electricity, especially when conducted on a large scale.
The research on China’s mining activities — published by peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications on Tuesday — was conducted by academics from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, Cornell University and the University of Surrey.
It comes despite rhetoric from China that it is keen to become more environmentally friendly. President Xi Jinping said last year that the country is targeting peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by the year 2060. But bitcoin threatens to derail those plans.
“Without appropriate interventions and feasible policies, the intensive bitcoin blockchain operation in China can quickly grow as a threat that could potentially undermine the emission reduction effort taken place in the country,” the authors wrote.
Worldwide, bitcoin mining consumes an estimated 128.84 terrawatt-hour (Twh) per year of energy — more than entire countries such as Ukraine and Argentina, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a project of the University of Cambridge.
“The growing energy consumption and associated carbon emission of bitcoin