Climate change: US vs. China — Here’s how the two biggest emitters are piling up – Community News
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Climate change: US vs. China — Here’s how the two biggest emitters are piling up

Here’s how the two stack up against each other.

In 2019, the final year before the pandemic hit, China’s greenhouse gas emissions were nearly 2.5 times that of the US, and more than all of the world’s developed countries combined, according to an analysis by Rhodium Group.
In terms of CO2 equivalent – which is a way of measuring all greenhouse gases as if they were CO2 – China emitted 14.1 billion tons in 2019. That is more than a quarter of the world’s total emissions.

In contrast, the US was responsible for 5.7 billion tons, 11% of total emissions, followed by India (6.6%) and the European Union (6.4%).

When scientists measure greenhouse gas emissions, they look at the total emissions that a country pumps into the air each year on its own. Those emissions come from anything powered by fossil fuels, including gasoline-powered cars, flying, heating and lighting buildings with power generated from coal, natural gas or oil, as well as the energy sector. Other sources, such as emissions from deforestation, are also included.

The US is the largest historical emitter

Historical emissions are closely linked to current levels of global warming. While China is the world’s largest emitter today, the US led every country until recently. Cumulatively, the US has nearly twice as much CO. expelled2 as China since 1850.

Cumulative CO2 emissions in million tons

Note: cumulative CO2 fossil fuel emissions, land use and forestry in million tons (1850-2021).

No country in the world has released more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the United States. And a long way.

While China is by far the biggest emitter today, it hasn’t always been that way. And that’s important because emissions released even hundreds of years ago contributed to global warming today. The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial revolution, and scientists say we need to keep it at 1.5 degrees to avoid worsening the effects of the climate crisis.

China’s CO2 emissions started to accelerate in the 2000s as the country developed rapidly. Advanced countries, such as the US, UK and many others in Europe, have been industrializing for some 200 years, emitting climate-changing gases. Much of the comfort of living in a developed country has come at the expense of the climate.
Since 1850, China has emitted 284 billion tons of CO2, according to a new analysis by Carbon Brief, a UK-based organization dealing with climate, energy and policy.

The US, on the other hand, industrialized decades earlier and emitted 509 billion tons of CO2 — twice as much.

China is a huge country with 1.4 billion people, so it makes sense that it would emit more than smaller countries in general. But if you look at per capita emissions, the average Chinese emits quite a bit less than the average American.

In 2019, China’s per capita emissions reached 10.1 tons. By comparison, the US reached 17.6 tons, according to the Rhodium Group.

Part of this comes down to lifestyle. Americans make more money, they own more gas-guzzling cars, and they fly more than the average Chinese, according to the Climate Transparency 2021 report, citing independent energy research firm Enerdata.

That’s not to say China shouldn’t cut emissions. China’s carbon footprint per capita is rapidly catching up with wealthier countries — it has nearly tripled in the past 20 years.

According to Enerdata, fossil fuels made up 87% of China’s domestic energy mix in 2020, 60% from coal, 20% from oil and 8% from natural gas.

In the US, 80% of the energy mix comes from fossil fuels. Of this, 33% comes from oil, 36% from natural gas and 11% from coal, according to figures from Enerdata.

Natural gas produces fewer emissions than coal, but it still harms the climate, and there are growing concerns that the US and other parts of the world are investing too heavily in gas rather than renewables.

China is the world’s largest user and producer of coal, consuming more than half of the world’s supply. That’s partly because China produces so many products and materials for the world, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “the factory of the world.”

China produces more than half of the world’s steel and cement, which is made from burning coking coal. Alternative fuels for these heavy industries, such as green hydrogen, are under development, but are not yet widely available. The emissions of just those two industries in China are higher than the total CO2 emissions of the European Union, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
According to the IEA, to reach net zero by 2050, 90% of global electricity generation must come from renewable sources, with solar and wind accounting for nearly 70%.

While China is the world’s largest emitter and still heavily reliant on coal, it also produces huge amounts of renewable energy.

In terms of energy mix, China and the US are roughly the same. Wind, sun, hydropower, geothermal, but also biomass and waste make up 10% of China’s energy consumption.

The US was not far off, with 9%. But almost half of that comes from biomass, which is energy extracted from materials that were recently alive, such as wood from trees, algae or animal waste. Some experts and scientists argue that it is not always truly renewable.

But because China in general consumes much more power, it has produced more renewable energy in real terms than the US. In 2020, China produced 745,000 gigawatt hours of energy from wind and solar, according to Enerdata. The US produced 485,000 gigawatt hours.

In terms of capacity, however, China was the world leader in 2020, when it built nearly half of all renewable energy plants in the world, according to the Renewables 2021 Global Status Report. It has almost doubled its capacity from 2019.

China has built huge solar and wind farms and produces more solar PV and wind turbines than any other country. It also has the largest electric vehicle market, accounting for 38.9% of the global share of electric vehicle sales, while the US accounted for 9.9%, according to the renewable energy report.

So, what’s the verdict?

Looking ahead, the US’s climate plans are more ambitious than China’s — US President Joe Biden has pledged to at least halve US emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 — but China is in a different place. development stage, so that should be a factor in determining what the country’s fair share of climate action should be. China is also ahead of the US in renewable energy.
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It also remains to be seen how much of US Democrats’ climate policy can make it through Congress.

China expresses its commitments in terms of “carbon intensity,” which allows for more emissions as GDP increases, making it difficult to compare with the US. It submitted its new emissions plan to the UN on Thursday, but made only modest improvements.

Climate Action Tracker, which summarizes countries’ goals, rates US domestic policies as better than China’s, almost on track to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. When adjusted to consider what each country’s fair share would be, they both get a “very unsatisfactory” rating.

In other words, neither country is cutting enough carbon or making the transition to renewable energy fast enough to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

CNN’s Yong Xiong contributed to the report.