Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

“An Atlas of Global Pollution”

Posted by w_thames_the_d on February 4, 2011


The deepest recession since the 1930s has failed to reverse rising global carbon emissions, as plummeting industrial output in the west was offset by the continuing rapid expansion of China and a handful of other emerging economies, new statistics for 2009 show.

While US emissions fell substantially in 2009, to levels not seen since 1995-96, China surged ahead with an increase of more than 13% on the previous year – the equivalent of adding the yearly emissions of Germany, Greece and Peru combined.

Europe, Russia, Canada and South Africa saw their emissions dip, and India has risen to third place in the league table, with the strong growth in its carbon output driven by a ramping-up of coal burning to generate power.

Overall, by these estimates, global emissions fell by a tiny 0.1%. For short periods in the wake of less severe recessions, such as those in 1981-83, and 1991-92, emissions fell more steeply only to continue their upward trend shortly afterwards.

These statistics, from the US Energy Information Administration, track only carbon dioxide emitted by energy use – such as from coal and gas power stations, and motor vehicles. They exclude emissions from other sources such as methane from livestock, and deforestation.

The map reveals how heavily future emissions trends depend on China, which overtook the US as the world’s biggest emitter in 2006-07. China’s emissions have so far risen just as fast as its runaway economic growth, but the government is hoping to “decouple” the two in the next decade, reducing the country’s emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. Doing so will be essential if global greenhouse gas emissions are to fall in line with scientific warnings.

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