China now world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter
Many of its polluting industries build goods for the developed world.
It's now official: China emits more greenhouse gases than any other country. Which is to say, more than the United States, which had that dubious distinction until now.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But it's too simplistic to tag China as the chief climate-change culprit.
Individually, Americans produce much more carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases than the Chinese do. That's because the US has about one-fourth of China's population. Also, much of China's economic growth, driven by hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, goes to make goods shipped to advanced markets – Japan, Europe, and the good old US of A.
News of China's new global-warming rank came from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which announced Friday that "according to preliminary estimates for 2006, China topped the list of CO2 emitting countries, surpassing the USA by an estimated 8 percent."
"It's an expression of their fast industrial production activities and their fast development," Jos G.J. Olivier, the agency's senior scientist, told the Associated Press.
Environmentalists jumped on the news.
Yang Ailun of Greenpeace China called on the country to take more steps to protect the environment, according to Time magazine. In a statement quoted by AP, she also stressed the global nature of the problem:
"Due to the urgency of climate change, China has the responsibility to take immediate action to reform its energy structure and curb its CO2 emissions...." "All the West has done is export a great slice of its carbon footprint to China and make China the world's factory. This trend has kept the price of projects in the West down, but led to a climate disaster in the long term."
Chinese officials argue this line as well. At a news briefing in Beijing covered by the AP, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called China the "world's factory" and said criticism of its emissions was unfair.
"The developed countries move a lot of manufacturing industry into China. A lot of the things you wear, you use, you eat are produced in China.... On the one hand, you shall increase the production in China, on the other hand you criticize China on the emission reduction issue.''
Others in the developing world agree.
"This is green imperialism," Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Malaysia's deputy finance minister, told a panel at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Singapore this week, as quoted by the AP. He continued:
"Companies that are polluting in China are owned by American, European, Japanese [firms], and others. They are benefiting from the cheap labor, from the resources, and at the same time accusing China of pollution."
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently warned that emissions of carbon dioxide from Asia's six largest nations will more than triple by 2030, said a story by the Inter-Press Service.
ADB president Haruhiko Kuroda said this week that the bank will push for clean energy sources, conservation, cap-and-trade schemes, and emission taxes on greenhouse gases. "Clean energy, including energy efficiency and renewable energy, needs to be actively promoted," he said.