China’s Per Person Carbon Footprint Growing Rapidly

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

China´s per capita carbon emissions are now on par with those of Europe as the country´s carbon footprint skyrocketed in 2011, rising by 9 percent, or the equivalent of an extra 6.5 tons of gas for each resident, according to data released on Wednesday.

China has long been a powerhouse when it comes to carbon emissions, becoming the largest emitter of CO2 in 2006. However, the per capita emissions have always remained lower than those in developed countries such as Europe and the US.

But a new report released by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) and the European commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) shows that China´s per capita emissions are now only a fraction lower than the EU average of 6.8 tons.

And while the per capita emissions in the US are much higher — 15.7 tons — the Chinese CO2 emissions overall are as much as 80 percent higher than those of America, mostly due to China´s heavy reliance on coal; the US has seen a 2 percent decline in the reliance on coal.

Also, emissions have fallen in Europe by 3 percent, and in Japan by 2 percent. However, throughout much of the developing world, including India, which saw a 6 percent increase in emissions, the carbon footprint continues to rise.

As a result, developing nations under the Organization for Economic and Cooperation for Development (OECD) now account for a third of the global carbon footprint total.

China and other fast-growing economies are fearful that curbs on emissions would slow their growth and development, and have sought concessions in international climate deals. These developing nations argue that with their lower per capita emissions than the developed world, they should not be forced to adhere to the same  CO2 restrictions as advanced economies are.

But as China is now on par with that of Europe, it will likely lose any fight it brings to the table. With emissions driven mainly by continued high economic growth and reliance on fossil fuels, China´s per capita footprint will likely sail past Europe and next approach the US. China, with coal imports surging to 10 percent, makes it the world´s largest coal importer.

But because the most recent report only measured energy use, the NEAA and JRC noted that it is likely that Europe´s per capita carbon footprint is substantially higher than China´s, taking into consideration that international travel accounts for 3 percent of the global total of CO2 emissions, and Europe has a much bigger presence in international travel than does China.

The report also fails to include other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Despite this, it does remain clear that the US, Europe and other developed nations have contributed a disproportionately larger share of historical emissions and are the main causes of global warming.

A recent study, however, showed that when international travel and imports are taken into account, the developed world now accounts for less than half of current global emissions. Another study has even shown that China´s emissions are much higher than recent reports have shown.

Global emissions have shot up 3 percent in 2011, increasing to a record 31 billion tons of CO2. While this is less than the rise seen in 2010, when emissions shot up 5 percent, it is higher than the average annual increase for the past decade, which stands at 2.7 percent. This suggests that efforts to curb global emissions have so far failed to make any impact.

The continued sharp rise in global emissions will make it that much harder for the world´s nations to fulfill their commitments and limit global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

Scientists said it is still feasible as long as cumulative CO2 emissions do not exceed 1,350 billion tons between 2000 and 2050. Since 2000, human activities have led to about 380 billion tons of CO2 being sent into the atmosphere, and on current trends the ceiling will be breached “within the next two decades,” warned the report.

In terms of volume, China is the top emitter of CO2 in the world (29 percent), followed by the US with 16 percent, the EU with 11 percent, and India, Russia and Japan — all with under six percent emissions.

For its own part, China is considering an emissions trading scheme in an attempt to avoid the price volatility and scandals that have rocked the EU and its $148-billion scheme. Seven Chinese cities are preparing to launch the country´s first emissions trading schemes to halt the nation´s spiraling greenhouse gas emissions.

“China will consider introducing both a price ceiling and a price floor to prevent the dramatic price fluctuation seen in the EU ETS,” Chen Jianpeng with the State Council’s Development Research Centre, which is involved in studying the impact of a future Chinese ETS, told Reuters Point Carbon.

Now accounting for nearly a third of global CO2 emissions, China plans to use the experiences from its pilot schemes to set up a national CO2 market later this decade. The Beijing municipal government, which will host one of China’s seven pilot schemes from 2013 or 2014, said it plans to implement a price floor and ceiling in the capital’s CO2 market.