China Power

US-Style Emissions a ‘Disaster’

Recent Features

China Power

US-Style Emissions a ‘Disaster’

A top Chinese economic official says it would be a disaster if China’s per capita emissions were like the US.

Allowing China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions to reach the levels of the United States would be a ‘disaster for the world,’ the country’s minister responsible for climate policy has said. And China and Europe should ‘join hands to push the US to take action.’

The comments, reported by the BBC, were made by Xie Zhenhua, vice chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, on a trip to London to explore co-operation on green energy between China and the UK.

Speaking to members of parliament, Xie reportedly said: ‘We are making efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon intensity is decreasing…We want to reach the peak as soon as possible.’

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but its emissions per person still lag considerably behind the United States. However, a report released last month by the European Commission said that although China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions currently stand at 6.8 tons compared with the United States’ 16.9 tons, the Chinese figure could pass that of the US before the end of the decade.

‘Due to its rapid economic development, per capita emissions in China are quickly approaching levels common in the industrialised countries of the Annex I group under the Kyoto Protocol, the report noted. ‘In fact, present CO2 emissions per person in China are now equal to those of Italy, higher than France, but still smaller than that of Germany.’

‘However, if the current trends in emissions by China and the industrialised countries including the USA would continue for another seven years, China will overtake the USA by 2017 as highest per capita emitter among the 25 largest emitting countries.’

China came in for heavy international criticism over its alleged intransigence at the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009, with many observers arguing that Beijing was determined to work with India to scupper efforts to set tough, specific targets.

But Beijing also appears to have been making significant efforts to expand its use of green energy.

Last month, Xie said China would spend 2 trillion yuan ($313 billion) on developing green energy and reducing carbon emissions over the next five years, with a view to cutting per-unit GDP energy consumption by 16 percent compared with 2010.

‘During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period, the Chinese government will boost low-carbon development from 10 perspectives,’ Xie was quoted by China Daily as telling the Second China International Eco-City Forum. ‘Promoting circular economy projects, establishing 100 demonstration bases for resource comprehensive utilization and launching low carbon pilot programmes in five provinces and eight cities are all methods China will use.’

Such commitment is likely to be welcomed by other nations – but it is also a necessity, a point captured by The Guardian’s Asia environment correspondent Jonathan Watts in his book When a Billion Chinese Jump.

‘By figuring out how to put China on a sustainable track half, if not all, the world's problems are solved, because other countries that are coming up behind in terms of economic development, like India or Brazil or Indonesia, would have a model to follow,’ he told The Diplomat.

‘But at the same time, if you can't do that, you end up with a country like China following a really nightmarish extreme: the US model of energy consumption. Even if it was the much more scaled down, more modest, more efficient consumption of Japan, or even just of Europe, you’d still have a calamitous situation on your hands because you've got these Chinese multiples of everything.’