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China Won’t Surpass ‘Disastrous’ Per-Capita Emission Levels Of US

Factory pollution – China

According to Xie Zhenhua, vice chair of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, allowing China’s per-capita carbon emissions to reach the same levels as the United States would be a “disaster for the world.”

Currently, China’s per-capita carbon emissions stand at 6.8 tons, which contrasts quite distinctly with the US’s 16.9 tons in per-capita emissions. But with a country industrializing as fast as China, many have expressed concern over the resulting environmental impact associated with such rapid development. Since 1990, China’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions have risen nearly three-fold. If current rates continue, China’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions could surpass those of the United States by 2017.

But according to Mr. Xie, surpassing the per-capita carbon emissions of the United States is not an option.

Instead, the Chinese government has put in place a five year plan which projects economic growth of 40% by 2015, but a reduction in carbon intensity of 17%. By 2020, China seeks to increase energy efficiency by 40 – 45%.

These aren’t just empty numbers either. According to Xie, these numbers are legally binding within China’s domestic context.

“During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period, the Chinese government will boost low-carbon development from 10 perspectives,’ Xie explained at the Second China International Eco-City Forum. ‘Promoting circular economy projects, establishing 100 demonstration bases for resource comprehensive utilization and launching low carbon pilot programs in five provinces and eight cities are all methods China will use.”

In terms of renewable energy, China has already surpassed the U.S. in installed wind power and has plans to increase its solar capacity to 10GW by 2015.

However, China’s stated development plans are not just good for the future Chinese economy and environment. They also have indirect benefits by providing other developing countries with a greener alternative than the now outdated U.S. development model. If China can prove it can achieve high levels of economic development with far less environmental impact than the U.S., other developing countries such as India and Brazil may jump on board as well.

What are your thoughts on China’s development model so far? Do you think China will be able to achieve increasing economic development without surpassing the US’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions?

Image CC licensed by eutrophication & hypoxia: Factory pollution in China

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