China May Become World’s Biggest CO2 Emitter By 2017

China is still considered a developing nation, but the country’s CO2 emissions are set to rival the U.S. in the near future.


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]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more