China Now Tops the EU in Per-Capita Carbon Emissions

Smoke is emitted from cars on the road in heavy smog in Jilin city, northeast Chinas Jilin province Photograph by Imaginechina via AP Photo

There is no such thing as an average Chinese person or lifestyle. In a country where poor farmers still struggle to eke out a living from parched soils, the sons of the political elite cruise Beijing’s streets in red Ferraris and spend lavishly on every whim. Still, it’s an arresting fact that, statistically, the average Chinese person now accounts for more carbon emissions annually than the average European.

According to new research by scientists at two British universities, China’s CO2 emissions in 2013 reached 7.2 tons per capita—topping, for the first time, the EU’s per capita emissions of 6.8 tons. Meanwhile, Americans were responsible for 16.4 tons of CO2 per capita. And India lagged far behind, at 1.9 tons per capita.

Last year China, already the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, saw its total carbon emissions rise 4.2 percent (EU emissions, meanwhile, decreased 1.8 percent). To be sure, China’s high emissions are partly due to its large export sector. Sixteen percent of China’s total CO2 emissions are produced while manufacturing goods and services for export.

These figures come from new papers authored by scientists at the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter and published in a trio of journals—Nature Climate Change, Nature Geoscience, and Earth System Science Data Discussions—on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit to be held Tuesday in New York.

“The human influence on climate change is clear,” study co-author Corinne Le Quéré, director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said in a statement. Meanwhile, her co-author Pierre Friedlingstein, a professor at the University of Exeter, added: “The time for a quiet evolution in our attitudes towards climate change is now over. Delaying action is not an option.”

In the U.S., scientists have typically shied away from political involvement. According to Scientific American’s environment and energy editor, David Biello, however, several prominent American scientists are now willing to “make an exception for climate change.” Biello spoke to a number of geologists, biologists, and paleoclimatologists, among others, who told him they planned to join Sunday’s “People’s Climate March” in New York.

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