China is out-polluting the world

New DelhiEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: May 10, 2021, 11:41 AM IST

File Photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping Photograph:(Reuters)

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We are told that every country is equally responsible. It's an excellent bit of propaganda. US and Europe polluted the world and made big money. But now, China is out-polluting the world

They say climate change is a global issue, something that the entire world is responsible for. But for more that two centuries, western countries went on a pollution spree. The West was a powerhouse of emmissions with its trains, factories, oil refineries and much more.

Most of the pollution we see today is from that era. This is because climate change doesn't take place immediately. Today's pollution builds up for disaster in future.

We are told that every country is equally responsible. It's an excellent bit of propaganda. US and Europe polluted the world and made big money. But now, China is out-polluting the world.

China accounted for 27 per cent of Greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. This is more than the US, India, the EU and Japan put together. In fact if we leave India and developed nations, they would fall short of China.

Where is China headed? Where does this leave the battle against climate change? And what role will the West play?

Question number one: Where is china headed?

President Xi Jinping says China's emissions will peak by 2030. So to answer the question. China's emissions are heading up. In 2020 they surged 1.7 per cent. Notably, this surge was recorded during the pandemic year. Global emmissions during this period dropped. But China's went up.

What about per capita numbers?

China usually scores well on this indicator. It helps when you have 1.4 billion people to share the massive load. But in 2019, that wasn't the case. The developed world reported 10.5 tonnes per capita. China came close with 10.1 tonnes.

They were at 7.18 tonnes in 2016. So the rise has been exponential. In the last two decades, Chinese per capita emission tripled.

If this trend holds, China will overtake the US before 2030.

Where does this leave China's climate commitments? Peak emissions by 2030. Net zero by 2050. That's what Xi Jinping has promised.

How realistic is this?

Last year, Beijing cleared coal power projects worth 474 million dollars. These are all investments outside China.

What about inside the country? More than half the energy demand is still met using coal. So Beijing is using the western playbook.

In fact they are perfecting it. Exporting pollution. And at the same time, burning coal at home.

Question number two, where does this leave the battle against climate change?

Chinese officials have ranked their priorities. Economic growth beats pollution. On this, most of the developing world is in agreement. But China's pace is worrying. It makes up nearly 18 per cent of world population. But 27% of emissions. A climate change conversation without China is pointless.

So far, they have promised a lot. But with China, promises don't matter. Which brings us to the third question.

What can the West do?

To be honest, they have done enough damage. So it would be better for them to stay away. We are still paying for their centuries of pollution.

A graph of cumulative emmissions from 1750 to 2019 shows developed world accounting for 1,000 gigatonnes of emissions.

What about China? Somewhere around 200. That's how far ahead the West is. The developing world would take decades to catch up.

But here's the thing, countries like India don't want to catch up. They are exploring green alternatives. But China is steaming ahead with coal. There are 1,058 coal plants in the country. More than half the global capacity is in China.

What about their Paris Accord goals?

Climate trackers have called the progress highly insufficient. So that's where things stand. The West is still the big villain. They must foot the bill for reversing climate change. But China is catching up fast. If they don't turn away from coal. You can add climate change to the list of things China must pay for.