China: Olympic-Sized Growth in Carbon Emissions

Washington, D.C.-Between 2000 and 2007, carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion worldwide increased 22 percent to an estimated 8.2 billion tons, according to the latest Vital Signs Update released by the Worldwatch Institute. China accounted for a staggering 57 percent of the growth in emissions during this period, while India contributed 8 percent and the United States and Europe contributed 4 and 3 percent, respectively.

Despite the dramatic rise in China's fossil fuel emissions, the United States is still the leading emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels. Americans still outpace the Chinese more than 4 to 1 in terms of per capita emissions, and they outpace Indians more than 13 to 1 and Africans 18 to 1. Nevertheless, the rapid, coal-dependent development of China has become the most important driver of current growth in global CO2 emissions. Coal provides 70 percent of commercial energy in China and 56 percent in India.

The combustion of fossil fuels, primarily coal, oil, and natural gas, accounts for about 74 percent of all CO2 emissions and for roughly 57 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions globally.

In December 2009, the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change intend to reach agreement on a new climate change protocol to limit carbon emissions, building on the Kyoto Protocol originally signed in 1997. The question of how emissions from China and other rapidly growing developing countries will be regulated in this new agreement is one of the most contentious issues that negotiators must navigate before the agreement can be reached.

"Industrial countries are largely responsible for the global climate crisis the world now faces," said Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute. "But recent emissions trends demonstrate that it will require an active partnership between industrial and developing countries if the climate is to be stabilized."