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China May Become World's Biggest CO2 Emitter By 2017

China is no longer a developing nation, at least in terms of CO2 emissions. The country has graduated to "developed" status, according to a new report claiming that the country could meet or surpass U.S. CO2 levels by 2017. The report, written by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, claims that the combination of China's carbon-heavy industries and rapidly increasing infrastructure are responsible for the growth.

The report, which is based on results from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), explains: "Due to its rapid economic development, per capita emissions in China are quickly approaching levels common in the industrialised countries. If the current trends in emissions by China and the industrialised countries including the US would continue for another seven years, China will overtake the US by 2017 as highest per capita emitter among the 25 largest emitting countries."

If China's CO2 levels do meet U.S. levels in the coming years, the country may find its status as the leader of developed countries jeopardized in future climate negotiations. Because it doesn't make much sense for a country that will have higher emissions levels than the U.K. by the end of next year to be put in the same category as India, which still only emits 1.5 tons of CO2 per capita (China already emits 4.96 tons, and the U.S. emits 19.34 tons).

Even if China does surpass the U.S. in emissions, it's possible that the country's CO2 output may stabilize around 2050 and eventually start to decline. As David Fridley, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab recently explained to Fast Company, "You can only build so many roads and railroads, and households can only own so many TVs and refrigerators." But by 2050, the climate change damage may already be done.

[Image: Flickr user kevin dooley]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Luke Schoen

    The report referenced by David Fridley actually projects total CO2 emissions plateauing around 2030, not 2050. ( Most population projections show China's population declining after 2030, but the LBNL report is generous in assuming continued growth to 1.41 billion in 2050, meaning either their per-capita emissions would actually decline.

    From page ix of the report: "China’s projected 2050 pathways are also noteworthy in that their per capita energy use will remain below most other countries with similar GDP levels."

  • atimoshenko

    The only CO2 metric that matters is CO2 per capita. Comparing China to the US on a national basis makes as much sense as comparing the US to Iceland.