China To Top U.S. in Greenhouse Gases This Year

The day we hear that China will postpone its "action plan" on climate change indefinitely -- and a few days after news that it has little intention of imposing limits a la Kyoto -- the chief economist of the International Energy Agency says that China could easily become the world's leading emitter of CO2 this year -- two years ahead of schedule. That title currently belongs to the U.S., but given China's soaring growth (it recently posted a near-record 11% rise in GDP) and all the little things that drive that growth, the IEA's Fatih Birol has updated the CO2 forecast: "If Chinese economic growth, and therefore coal consumption, continues to surprise us, this may well be this year or next year," he told the Guardian...In 2006, the Chinese are thought to have emitted about 5,600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the Americans' 5,900; this year they could likely emit about 6,020 million tonnes of CO2 to about 5,910 from the US, says the IEA.

So far, China, like India, has given two reasons for resisting caps on CO2 and other gases. First, such caps would place unfair limitations on the developing economy, and major policies should focus on development before cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Two, any cuts in emissions by China would mean nothing without similar caps by the United States. The former reason appears to ignore the principles of China's current Five Year Plan, with President Hu Jintao's focus on sustainable development -- not to mention the concerns of an earlier Chinese climate change report and the worries just raised by scientists in Beijing: without measured, green growth, China's ambitions are bankrupt, its footing unsteady, and its thirst for development will remain unquenched.

The second reason is right in part about Washington's own reluctance on CO2 cuts, which, to complete the tiring blame game cycle, is partly driven by China's reluctance. (It is important to remember too that the U.S. has and continues to export much of its emissions to China). Still, this reasoning fails to recognize the emissions push by California and other states. More significantly, it ignores that fact that no matter when China begins to lead in CO2 production, the country will soon be the sine qua non of any significant attempts to cut greenhouse gases; in the next decades, China's emissions will effectively negate attempts by other countries to reduce their own--unless it starts working hard now to clean up its act. Said Birol:

Within the next 25 years, CO2 emissions which come from China alone will be double the CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD countries put together - the whole US, plus Canada, plus all the European countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc.

Even if we cast aside all our traditional concerns and embrace China's "peaceful rise" -- and even if we, like China, didn't see climate change as a security issue -- right now it's hard not to see China as a threat to everyone, itself included. : : Guardian

Tags: Beijing | China