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China emitting more greenhouse gases than OECD and EU combined

A report from think tank Rhodium Group, which provides emissions estimates and forecasts, found that in 2019, China’s greenhouse gas emissions outstripped those of the OECD and all EU countries combined.

Rhodium Group assessed national emissions by taking into consideration all six “Kyoto gases”, land use, forests and international bunkers.

The report found that China’s greenhouse gas emissions more than tripled in the 30 preceding years and its per capita emissions have nearly tripled over the past 20 years. However, its population is the largest in the world, meaning that its per person emissions remain far behind those of the US, for example.

In 2019, China emitted 27 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases (over 14 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents). The US was the second largest offender at 11 per cent, with India third at 6.6 per cent. The 27 member states of the EU collectively contribute 6.4 per cent, slipping behind India for the first time. Overall, the world emitted 52 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 - a more than 11 per cent increase over the past decade.

China’s emissions in 2019 exceeded those of all OECD nations and EU member states combined. In 1990, its emissions were less than a quarter of these combined developed countries.

Rhodium Group acknowledged that China’s history as a major emitter is relatively short compared to the OECD and EU27, many of which had more than a century’s head start: “A large share of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year hangs around for hundreds of years. As a result, current global warming is the result of emissions from both the recent and more distant past. Since 1750, members of the OECD bloc have emitted four times more CO2 on a cumulative basis than China.”

China is the world leader in renewable electricity production and is rapidly expanding its green infrastructure with the help of vast government investments. However, its energy needs are so large that it still relies on fossil fuels – mainly coal – as a significant energy source. It has more than 1,000 operational coal plants, representing more than half the world’s coal capacity, and is continuing to accelerate construction of coal-fired plants.

According to independent scientific analysis of national climate action (the Climate Action Tracker), China’s approach is not consistent with containing global warming to below 2°C in line with the Paris Agreement.

The country has committed to racing towards net zero emissions by 2060, with a peak by 2030 - an ambitious target, given the size of its national emissions and the government’s pursuit of continued economic growth.

President Xi Jinping reiterated this pledge during a recent climate summit hosted by US President Joe Biden, commenting that its decarbonisation target is based on both a sense of responsibility for “a shared future for mankind” and China’s own need to secure sustainable development. He added that China would limit coal consumption increases in the next five years, with reductions targeted for the five years following that.

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