China has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest producer of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, figures released today show.
The surprising announcement will increase anxiety about China's growing role in driving man-made global warming and will pile pressure onto world politicians to agree a new global agreement on climate change that includes the booming Chinese economy. China's emissions had not been expected to overtake those from the US, formerly the world's biggest polluter, for several years, although some reports predicted it could happen as early as next year.
China has all but ignored the world's entreaties to join in some sort of collective effort to limit CO2 emissions. And while the US wasn't expected to be caught by China for several years, the US has cleaned up its output considerably, by itself and at a better pace than Europe, one reason China "caught" us more quickly.
The other reason is China's overheated economy. China's government is faced with many serious internal problems because of it and the least of its priorities right now are CO2 emissions. In fact the case could be made that if it does anything to slow down its economic growth right now, those internal problems could threaten communist rule.
However, China knows it can't ignore the world forever, so it put out its version of a plan to curb emissions earlier this year:
Earlier this month, China unveiled its first national plan on climate change after two years of preparation by 17 government ministries. Rather than setting a direct target for the reduction or avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, it now aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 20% by 2010 and to increase the share of renewable energy to some 10%, as well as to cover roughly 20% of the nation's land with forest.
Got that? Reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP (efficiency in a very inefficient energy market), crank up the renewable energy by 10% and plant trees.
Now, to be clear, I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with AGW with this post, I'm simply illustrating that even if its true, these are the realities the world faces when trying to curb anything. You have countries, such as China, weighing economic growth and prosperity against voluntary curbs which might hurt or stop that economic growth and prosperity. They're being asked to possibly lose the bird in the hand for some nebulous possibility (that curbing emissions C02 might have an effect on climate change). As you might imagine, they're not much enamored with playing "you bet your economy" in the hope of having an effect.
So they plant trees. And they, in my estimation, reflect the real attitude of the biggest emitters of CO2. It is the small emitters who are chirping on about really lowering CO2 emissions, not the big boys, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.