China Set To Become World’s Biggest Polluter

In a few months, the People’s Republic of China will surpass the United States as the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases:

China could overtake the US as the globe’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases later this year, far earlier than expected, one of the world’s leading energy bodies warned today.

If left unchecked, within 25 years emissions from China will be double those of the combined output of the US, EU, Japan and all other industrialised nations, said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The Paris-based organisation, which advises wealthy countries on energy policy, had previously said China was on course to become the world’s biggest such polluter no earlier than 2009.

But such is the country’s untrammelled economic growth, much of it driven by coal-fired power stations, this could potentially happen within months, Mr Birol told Guardian Unlimited.

“If Chinese economic growth, and therefore coal consumption, continues to surprise us, this may well be this year or next year,” he said.

And China isn’t the only developing country set to become a huge polluter:

“Within the next 25 years, CO2 emissions which come from China alone will be double the CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD countries put together – the whole US, plus Canada, plus all the European countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc,” he said.

Over the same time period, India’s emissions were forecast to grow such that they were half the OECD total, Mr Birol added, calling this “very, very significant”.

This development is interesting on several levels. First, it will be interesting to see if the environmentalist lobby starts putting as much pressure on the PRC  as they do on the Western world to restrain economic growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, even if they do, the reaction of the Chinese government is likely to be less than sympathetic:

Those comments follow the weekend release of a Chinese government report detailing the costs of climate change but asserting that the country should focus on development before cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Higher than average temperatures meant spreading deserts, worsening droughts, shrinking glaciers and increased spread of diseases, said the report, compiled by more than a dozen government bodies. It said emission limits were unfair and would constrain China’s current energy and manufacturing industries.

China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gasses, but is exempt from its restrictions because it is a developing country.

The Chinese seem unlikely to agree to anything that would restrain economic growth anytime soon. Meaning that any effort to confront China on this issue could end up having foreign policy implications.