China overtakes US on emissions

China has become the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide according to Dutch environmental regulators, outstripping America even faster than predicted by most pundits.

According to its preliminary studies, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) estimates that China’s emissions in 2006 were 8% higher than those of the USA.

The figures are based on energy data published by BP and information on cement production, a sector which contributes a significant chunk of the total emissions.

Of all industrial processes, cement clinker production is the largest source of CO2. It contributes around 4% to the total of CO2 emissions from fuel use and industrial activities, globally.

China produces around 44% of the world’s cement and as a country, according to the MNP, emits about 9% of the global total of manmade CO2.

In 2006, the total of China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels increased by 9%. In the USA in 2006, emissions decreased by 1.4%.

In the European Union countries (the ‘EU 15’) in that same year, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels remained more or less constant.

China’s rapid economic growth and heavy reliance on coal has made its topping the chart of emitters inevitable, but many has expressed surprise at just how fast it has over taken the industrialised West.

Several commentators have been quick to point out that as the West is the main consumer of Chinese exports, it must shoulder its share of the blame.

Reacting to a study released today claiming China emitted more carbon-dioxide than the United States in 2006, Greenpeace UK director John Sauven said:

“Responsibility for China’s soaring emissions lies not just in Beijing but also in Washington, Brussels and Tokyo,” said Greenpeace UK director John Sauven.

“All we’ve done is export a great slice of the West’s carbon footprint to China, and today we see the result. Let us not forget that the average Chinese emits just 3.5 tonnes of CO2 per year, whereas Britons emit nearly 10 tonnes and Americans 20 tonnes.”

“The West moved its manufacturing base to China knowing it was vastly more polluting than Japan, Europe or the US. No environmental conditions were attached to this move, in fact the only thing manufacturers were interested in was the price of labour.

“This trend kept the price of our products down but at the cost of soaring greenhouse gas emissions. Long term this policy has been a climate disaster.”

Sam Bond

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