An organization called the Rhodium Group released a report today which found that, in 2019, China’s emissions of greenhouse gases exceeded those of the US and the EU combined.
China alone contributed over 27% of total global emissions, far exceeding the US—the second highest emitter—which contributed 11% of the global total (Figure 1). For the first time, India edged out the EU-27 for third place, coming in at 6.6% of global emissions.
In 2019, China’s GHG emissions passed the 14 gigaton threshold for the first time, reaching 14,093 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMt CO2e) (Figure 2). This represents a more than tripling of 1990 levels, and a 25% increase over the past decade. As a result, China’s share of the 2019 global emissions total of 52 gigatons rose to 27%.
Here’s a chart of the findings. As you can see, China’s emissions exceed those of the US, EU-27 and India combined.
The pushback to this is that because China has such a large population, their per capita emissions are still lower than other developed countries. Except that’s not true anymore.
To date, China’s size has meant that its per capita emissions have remained considerably lower than those in the developed world. In 2019, China’s per capita emissions reached 10.1 tons, nearly tripling over the past two decades (Figure 3). This comes in just below average levels across the OECD bloc (10.5 tons/capita) in 2019, but still significantly lower than the US, which has the highest per capita emissions in the world at 17.6 tons/capita. While final global data for 2020 is not yet available, we expect China’s per capita emissions exceeded the OECD average in 2020, as China’s net GHG emissions grew around 1.7% while emissions from almost all other nations declined sharply in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In short, China was nearly even with the OECD average in 2019 and, though numbers for 2020 aren’t available yet, there’s every reason to think China surpassed that average last year. Only the US has significantly higher emissions per capita.
All of this is significant as western countries race to cut emissions in half by 2030 while China continues to build coal-fired power plants.
The findings come after a climate summit President Joe Biden hosted last month, during which Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated his pledge to make sure the nation’s emissions peak by 2030. He also repeated China’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century and urged countries to work together to combat the climate crisis…
Xi said China would control coal-fired generation projects and limit increases in coal consumption over the next five years, with reductions taking place in the five years following that.
However, Chinese officials have also emphasized that economic growth, which is still largely dependent on coal power, remains a priority. And the nation is still increasing construction of coal-fired power plants.
So while the US is likely to see big spikes in energy prices (and car prices) plus tens of thousands of jobs lost in the production of oil and gas, all to reduce emissions by 2030, China is telling us that its emissions will peak at that point.
I’ve already argued why I think this isn’t a good bargain for the free world here. Committing to a plan that allows China to continue to grow on cheap energy while everyone else pays more for energy is a recipe for disaster. We don’t want the world’s leading communist tyranny to be the most powerful nation in the world. Avoiding that outcome has to be paramount or we’ll regret it.