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Pollution in China is staggering. According to Rhodium Group research, China’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 exceeded those of the United States, India, and European Union (EU) countries combined.
In other words, China pollutes more than that of all developed nations combined.
“Based on our newly updated preliminary estimates for 2019, global emissions—including emissions of all six Kyoto gases, inclusive of land-use and forests and international bunkers—reached 52 gigatons of CO2-equivalent in 2019, an 11.4% increase over the past decade,” Rhodium Group explains in its research.
The six Kyoto gases are part of the Kyoto Protocol that aims to reduce emissions of six “global warming” gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane gas (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), plus three fluorinated industrial gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). “International bunkers” are CO2 emissions from international aviation and maritime transport fuels.
“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 round figures, the USA, India, and the countries of the European Union emitted 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. China exceeded them by three percentage points.
According to the study, China’s carbon pollution, i.e. its greenhouse gas emissions, exceeded the threshold of 14 gigatons, equivalent to some 14,093 million metric tons of CO2. This is three times the 1990 levels and represents a 25% increase in carbon emissions over the last decade.
However, there is one fact that perhaps serves as an excuse for China to justify its staggering pollution levels: per capita emissions in the Asian giant. Because of its large population, they are lower than in developed countries, the research finds.
“China is a large country, home to over 1.4 billion people. To date, China’s size has meant that its per capita emissions have remained considerably lower than those in the developed world,” the study reviews.
In 2019 the Asian giant’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions exceeded 10 tons (10.1); representing a tripling compared to emissions over the past 20 years. However, in the United States, per capita emissions are 17.6 tons per capita, which exceeds China according to the data.
China does not have much to celebrate either, as Rhodium Group also explained that for the 2020 global data they expect China to surpass the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average in per capita emissions, as its carbon emissions grew in 2020, while in OECD countries they decreased as a result of COVID-19.
Carbon pollution in China goes up, in the USA it goes down
While China’s carbon pollution rates continue to rise, the United States has achieved significant reductions in its greenhouse gas emissions in recent years.
Bloomberg had already advanced that the United States reduced its carbon emissions by 2% in 2019. One of the reasons is that many companies in the country switched from carbon to gas, a product of the energy independence achieved during the Trump administration thanks to the success of fracking, which caused gas to be much cheaper to produce energy than carbon.
According to journalist Tim de Chant, “China’s growing carbon emissions have drawn the attention of leaders from around the world. In 2018, the Communist Party lifted a ban on the construction of new coal plants, and its policies have become more generous in years since.”
Even though China, de Chant explains, “has installed a large number of solar panels and wind turbines, fossil fuels still power the vast majority of its industries and transportation modes. Its electrical grid is particularly carbon-intensive—half of the world’s coal is burned inside China’s borders.”
While China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pledged to reach its peak pollution by 2030 through the Paris Agreement (meaning 9 more years of heavy carbon pollution), the United States promises to significantly reduce its carbon footprint by that year.
The Asian giant says that, after reaching its peak by 2030, it will have zero emissions in thirty years.
Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.