China released a greater volume of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere in 2019 than all of the world’s developed nations put together, a study has found.
The eastern superpower has tripled its emission levels since the 1990s, crossing the 14 gigatons threshold for the first time ever in 2019.
Emission estimates for 190 nations across the globe were calculated by experts from research firm Rhodium Group in tandem with Breakthrough Energy.
The analysis considered six greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride.
Global emissions have risen 11.4 per cent in the last decade to reach 52 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, with China responsible for 27 per cent of this.
The second-worst emitter was the US — accounting for 11 per cent of the total — with India edging out the EU for the first time to come in third at 6.6 per cent.
‘China’s emissions not only eclipsed that of the US — the world’s second-largest emitter, at 1 percent of the global total — but also, for the first time, surpassed the emissions of all developed countries combined,’ the Rhodium group said.
For the purposes of the study, the researchers defined developed countries as those that belonged to either the European Union or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
‘Greenhouse gas emissions from all members of the OECD, as well as all 27 EU member states, reached 14,057 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019, about 36 million metric tons short of China’s total,’ the researchers added.
While China’s figures may look disproportionate, they must also be regarded in relation to the fact that the vast country is home to a sizeable population estimated at more than 1.4 billion people.
When considered on a per capita basis, China’s emissions have long been significantly lower than that of the developed nations and, despite tripling over the last two decades to around 10.1 tons, they remain under the OECD average.
Per capita, the worst offender for greenhouse gas emissions is the United States, coming in at the significantly higher value of 17.6 tons per head.
While final figures are still pending, the researchers are expecting China’s per capita emissions for 2020 to exceed the OECD average as, unlike China, the organisation’s member nations saw emissions decline sharply amid COVID-19 lockdowns.
In China, however, last year saw greenhouse gas emissions rise by 1.7 per cent.
‘China’s history as a major emitter is relatively short compared to developed countries, many of which had more than a century head start,’ they explained.
‘A large share of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year hangs around for hundreds of years. As a result, current global warming is the result of emissions from both the recent and more distant past.
‘Since 1750, members of the OECD bloc have emitted four times more carbon dioxide on a cumulative basis than China.’