- Political ambitions make China’s emissions growth inevitable even as the economy falters.
As China struggles to recover economically from the impact of the pandemic, it is set to deal a painful blow to global efforts to fight climate change. The party has often sacrificed environmental regulations as soon as GDP targets and economic growth have been threatened, thus industrial or trade decline paradoxically produces soaring pollution. But even in normal times, China’s soaring carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are a massive part of the dire threat to all life on earth posed by climate change.
While it’s often reported that China’s CO2 levels lead the world, few appreciate the scale: how disproportionate they are compared to other large emitters; the speed of their growth; and the impossibility of reining them as long as the CCP remains in power.
In 1990, China’s CO2 emissions were just half those of the United States. In the next 15 years they more than doubled, overtaking the United States. Then in just 12 years, from 2005 to 2017, China’s emissions nearly doubled again to more than twice those of the United States (13,110 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, or mtCO2e, compared with 6,457 million)—although China’s GDP was only 63 percent as large as the U.S. GDP in 2017.