It had been known, but disputed, for a year that China was the new king of carbon, having pumped more of the heat-trapping gas into the atmosphere annually than the United States. Now, with a new analysis from the Netherlands, the rise of China's polluting power has been confirmed.
The world's carbon dioxide emissions increased 3% in 2007, and China was responsible for fully two thirds of that increase, according to the report. It now emits 14% more than the United States every year, and that figure is expected to grow as the country continues to burn coal, clear forests and make cement to fuel its own economic boom, while manufacturing the world's disposable goods.
China is now responsible for about one quarter of the world's annual carbon dioxide pollution, while the U.S. is responsible for one fifth. It takes all of Europe and India combined to approach the level of pollution the U.S. creates every year. And the U.S. still leads the world in pollution per person: It takes almost four Chinese people (and more than 10 Indians) to equal the pollution of a single American.
The big picture here is, one, that greenhouse gas pollution continues to increase, despite ever clearer warnings that global warming is a real and present threat. From the Arctic, where ice is melting at an unexpected pace, to raging wildfires across the U.S. West and other extremes of weather, the warning signs are hard to miss.
But finding a way not only to reduce emissions in the United States, where technological development is easier and first-world living standards are already in place, but also in China, where industrial development is a key to bringing millions out of poverty, is an open question. In the United Nations' negotiations about climate change, and in parallel discussions among the world's top polluters convened by President Bush, a key question has been how to transfer clean energy technology created by free market enterprise in the West to China, India and other nations that would otherwise follow the West's model of a decades-long high-polluting march toward modernization.
So far, there hasn't been an answer found to that question. Meanwhile, the stakes are only getting higher.
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