China last year surpassed the US to be the world's largest emitter of CO2, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP).
The MNP figures are the most alarming yet and contrast with predictions made last year by the International Energy Authority, which maintained that China would not surpass the US until 2009 at the earliest — see this EngagingChina story
In 2005, the MNP says CO2 emissions from China were still 2% below those of the US but in 2006, while US emissions dropped by 1.4%, the total of China's emissions increased by a startling 9%.
In the rest of the world, the growth of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuel use 2.6% compared to a 3.3% increase in 2005. The 2.6% increase is mainly due to a 4.5% increase in global coal consumption, of which China contributed more than two thirds.
China's 2006 CO2 emissions surpassed those of the USA by 8%. This includes CO2 emissions from industrial processes, most notably cement production. China is the world's largest producer of cement, accounting for around 44% of global production.
Indeed, the price of the cement is a pretty good barometer for China's economic growth. While the price of toys and other consumer products that China exports keep declining, the prices of cement and other commodities needed to build China's infrastructure keeps rising — see chart. More in this Deloitte Research note.
Making cement is an energy-intensive and notoriously contaminating process, but there are several ways that China's cement industry could save energy and reduce greenhouse gas reductions.
These measures include energy-efficient retrofits, increased use of blended cements, substitution of coal with waste fuels, use of waste heat for power generation and closing older kilns in favour of more modern rotary kilns.
The publication of the MNP figures comes just weeks after China vowed to reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection in a 62-page action plan. The initiative is designed to deflate growing criticism from Europe and elsewhere at China's laissez-faire attitude to environmental issues.
On the contentious problem of greenhouse gas emissions, the action plan promised “significant achievements” but made no commitment to a quantifiable goal. More on the plan in this Guardian article.
China continues to insist that, on a per capita basis, China is a model of sustainable development. Each Chinese citizen only emits 3.5 tons of CO2 a year compared with 10 tons for a British citizen and a phenomenal 20 tons for a US citizen. The problem, of course, is that there are a lot more Chinese — 1.3bn of them.