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China Overtakes US As Biggest Carbon Emitter

Agence France-Presse in Paris – Updated on Sep 27, 2008

China has overtaken the United States as the biggest carbon emitter, and India is heading for third place, scientists said yesterday in a report that warned global greenhouse-gas levels were scaling record peaks.

The report, by a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project, confirms an estimate that China had become the biggest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas that causes global warming.

Until 2005, rich nations emitted most of the world’s man-made CO2. Today, developing countries account for 53 per cent of the total, it said.

“The biggest increase in emissions has been taking place in developing countries, largely in China and India, while developed countries have been growing slowly,” it said. “The largest regional shift was that China passed the US in 2006 to become the largest CO2 emitter, and India will soon overtake Russia to become the third largest emitter.”

Last year, China emitted 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon from fossil fuels, compared with 1.59 billion by the United States. Russia was third, with 432 million tonnes, followed by India, with 430 million.

In November 2006, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that China would overtake the United States as No1 carbon polluter by 2010. But in June last year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said China became the biggest emitter the previous year, thanks to soaring demand for coal and a surge in cement production.

The project said global CO2 emissions last year were equivalent to almost 10 billion tonnes of carbon. Fossil fuels accounted for 8.5 billion tonnes and changes to land use, mainly through deforestation, accounted for the rest.

“The present concentration [of CO2 in the atmosphere] is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years,” the report said.

The document also said:

  • Fossil-fuel emissions this decade were running at four times those of the 1990s.
  • Tropical deforestation amounted to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon last year, with Latin America and Asia each accounting for 600 million tonnes and Africa 300 million.
  • Natural “sinks” – the ocean, forests and other land – were “a huge subsidy” to the global economy, soaking up more than half of the CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere. But these “sinks” are in a bad way. Their efficiency has fallen by 5 per cent over the past 50 years “and will continue to do so in the future”.

The report, Carbon Budget 2007, was written by eight scientists sponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Research and the World Climate Research Programme.

“Our numbers provide a reality check,” Corinne Le Quere, from the British Antarctic Survey and professor at the University of East Anglia said. “The scale of efforts [to tackle emissions] is not enough.”

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