China may choose (on some occasions) to refer to itself as a developing nation, but in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per person, it is already a developed one.
The country’s per capita carbon dioxide production now exceeds that of Spain and France and may overtake US levels within six years, according to a report by the highly respected Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which was released last month.
The news came ahead of United Nations climate change talks in Panama this week, where China and other emerging economies are supporting a European Union proposal to extend the Kyoto Protocol, under which they have no obligations to cut emissions.
China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas in 2007. But it argues that it deserves dispensation as a developing country with a population of 1.34 billion.
At the Copenhagen Conference two years ago – which China is widely accused of scuppering – negotiators were working with figures that put the country’s per capita emissions at around two thirds of the EU’s, and less than a third of US levels.
But since then many industrialised nations have cut their emissions – partly as result of the global downturn – while China’s have risen dramatically.
“Due to its rapid economic development, per capita emissions in China are quickly approaching levels common in the industrialised countries,” the report warns.
“If the current trends in emissions by China and the industrialised countries, including the US, continue for another seven years China will overtake the US by 2017 as the highest per capita emitter among the 25 largest emitting countries.”
The report also says that China’s emissions rose a dramatic 10% to 6.8 tonnes per person last year.
France and Spain produced 5.9 and 6.3 tonnes per person respectively, while the United States is down from 18.5 tonnes in 2008 to 16.9 tonnes.
The problem is that increases in countries such as China and India are wiping out the reductions achieved by the industrialised world, with global carbon emissions last year hitting a record 33 billion tonnes.
The agency said the main reason for China’s huge carbon dioxide (CO2) surge was the Rmb4trillion stimulus package deployed in late 2008 to minimise the impact of the global financial crisis.
That money, coupled with billions of dollars of soft loans, saw power generation – mostly from coal – rise 11.6%. Carbon-intensive steel and cement production also rose sharply, as the country went on a massive construction spree.
The report said the scale of China’s industrial boom was also eclipsing the country’s efforts to produce more power from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy, both of which saw their capacity double last year for the sixth year in a row.
Some commentators say this latest appraisal of China’s emissions – could affect its ability to extract concessions from the industrialised nations in climate change talks such as those being held in Panama this week or in Durban in South Africa next year.
Foreign media are making this case. “The sheer speed and scale of growth in China’s carbon emissions threaten to call into question the credibility of the country as the de facto leader of the developing world in international climate change negotiations, with India still only emitting 1.5 tonnes per person,” the UK’s Daily Telegraph warned last week.
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