China on brink as No. 1 polluter
Mar 24, 2007
Emma Graham-Harrison and Gerard Wynn
China is on course to overtake the United States this year as the world's biggest carbon dioxide producer, according to estimates based on Chinese energy data.
The finding might pressure Beijing to take more action on climate change.
China's emissions rose by about 10 percent in 2005, a senior U.S. scientist estimated, while Beijing data shows fuel consumption rose more than 9 percent in 2006, suggesting China would easily outstrip the United States this year, long before a forecast.
Taking the top spot would put pressure on China to do more to slow emissions as part of world talks on extending the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012.
Thirty-five developed nations have agreed to cut emissions in accordance with Kyoto and they want others, especially the United States and China, to do more. China and India were not included in the pact because they are considered developing countries, which was one reason the United States did not sign it.
"It looks likely to me that China will pass the United States [in emissions] this year," said Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, which supplies data to governments, researchers and nongovernmental organizations worldwide.
"There's a very high likelihood they'll pass them in 2007."
Carbon dioxide is produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas for heat, power and transportation. Many, but not all, scientists say it is a key contributor to global warming.
Mr. Marland used fossil fuel consumption data from oil company BP to calculate China's carbon dioxide emissions in 2005 at 5.3 billion tons, versus 5.9 billion for the United States, with respective growth in 2005 of 10.5 percent and less than 0.1 percent.
In 2006, Chinese fuel consumption rose 9.3 percent to the equivalent of 2.4 billion tons of coal that year, the deputy head of the office that advises China on energy policy, Xu Dingming, said on Thursday.
This was faster than BP's estimate of a 9 percent rise in China's oil, gas and coal consumption in 2005, to 1.45 billion tons of oil equivalent.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 26 developed countries, said in November that China would overtake the United States as the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter before 2010 if current trends continued.
China's Office of the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change said it could not comment on either forecast, as it did not have a reliable estimate of the country's emissions.
"These figures are very complicated; we don't have an estimate of [carbon dioxide] for such a recent date," said an official who declined to be named. "We have just set in motion our national reporting plan ... but it will not be done for two or three years."
U.N. data for 2003 put the United States at the top with 23 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions and China second with 16.5 percent. But U.S. residents were far bigger producers, at 20 tons per capita versus China's 3.2 tons and a world average of 3.7.
China argues that wealthy nations are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and should lead the way in cutting emissions.
More economic growth and fuel use translates into higher emissions, particularly in China, which gets around 70 percent of its energy from coal, the highest carbon-producing fuel.
Mr. Marland estimated a plus or minus 15 to 20 percent error in the Chinese data versus a 5 percent U.S. margin.
China's rapid rise of carbon emissions is threatening to outweigh efforts by the European Union and others to slow climate change. EU leaders said earlier this month they would cut the bloc's greenhouse gases by at least one-fifth by 2020.
But China between now and 2015 will build power-generating capacity equal to the entire existing capacity in the 27-nation European Union, the IEA estimates.
China's sconomic growth has been fueled largely by burning coal, and it is still building power plants at an unprecedented rate. Last year, it added about 100 gigawatts of new generators, approaching France's entire capacity, most of them coal-burning ones.
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