Tuesday, July 20, 2010

China heaviest CO2 polluter

I saw a story online that reminded me of a post that I did a few years ago about the folly of the CO2/GDP concept. Well, poking around online, I was able to find some more annual data, going back to 1960 and up to 2008 for the US, China, India, and the UK (I tried to keep the colors as close to the original as possible):

Basically, in comparison with the original graph, China's tumultuous 1960s are clearly shown. In addition, what seemed to potentially be a "heating up" of China's rate post 2003 seems to have returned back to 2002 levels. India's rate has also continued it slow decline post 2003 (but seems to have a slight up-tick in 2008). The USA and the UK are both continuing their downward rates.

But wait! Wasn't I all angry about this graph last time? Sure I was, and I still am not happy with this graph, because of the exact same reasons as before:
  1. the rate of GDP growth is higher than the rate of CO2-emission growth,
  2. the rate of GDP growth and the rate of CO2-emission growth are different amongst countries, and
  3. GDP is not related to global warming.
However, China's not buying the numbers, especially the ones that say that it has become the largest energy consumer in the world -- surpassing the United States. True, the per capita CO2 emissions rate in China is still far lower than the US, and in terms of looking at issues of equity, perhaps this might be important so long as we continue to be dominated by CO2-emitting power infrastructure. One of the strongest statements that is made about the differences between developing countries and developed countries, re: CO2 emissions, is that developing countries have significantly lower per capita CO2 emissions than developed countries. However, China is moving up during the past 10 years, while the UK is slowly coming down:

If the CO2/person trend in recent years is similar throughout Europe (which might even be the case), then the future world might well be split into three groups: developing, low ratio (the condition of India in the graph); developed, high ratio (the US in the graph); developed, low ratio (the possible future of the UK). If this were the case, then maybe (hopefully) the narrative of development being tied with [dirty] energy use will change, and another "path to development" will become available; possibly a leapfrog option for developing countries to get on before they are too heavily invested in coal/oil/natural gas infrastructure.

The US, though, is remaining above 5 tons CO2/person/year. Of course, what this relative static of the past 20-ish years means is that the US population growth is roughly matched by the growth in CO2 emissions. (In other words, both are increasing or decreasing at the same rate, or -- of course -- staying the same.)

However, the atmospheric response to CO2 doesn't care one whit about either GDP or total population. And the two major CO2 polluters in the world -- the US and China -- are quite up there. And China's growth in CO2 emissions from 2003-2008 has been crazy.

Data sources:

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