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China's emissions surpass all developed nations combined

Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Note: OECD tally includes all European Union member states; Chart: Axios Visuals

The distribution of global greenhouse gas emissions has reached an inflection point: China's emissions exceeded developed nations combined in 2019, a new Rhodium Group analysis concludes.

Why it matters: "The shifting dynamics of global emissions — with China surpassing the developed world for the first time — means that meeting the Paris goals will require significant and rapid action from all countries," Kate Larsen, a director at Rhodium, tells Axios.


The big picture: Rhodium compared China's emissions to nations in the multilateral Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as of 2019, including all EU members. The chart above shows totals.

  • The analysis also showed that on a per-capita basis, China's 2019 emissions were close to the OECD average. The firm expects that the final 2020 data will show China's per-capita emissions exceeded the OECD average.
  • Rhodium's Larsen notes China's per-capita rise stems from higher living standards, China's relatively fossil-intensive power mix and its export-focused manufacturing.

What we're watching: The steps China takes — or doesn't — in coming years to breathe life into its pledge to have its emissions peak before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

By the numbers: China's emissions are over a quarter of the world's total. Their per-capita emissions were over 10 tons of CO2-equivalent in 2019, but that's still far below the world-leading U.S. at 17.6 tons, per Rhodium.

Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Note: OECD tally includes all European Union member states; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, but: China's emissions look very different when measured on a historical basis.

Why it matters: It helps explain why nations that industrialized first bear such responsibility for tackling warming, even as emissions growth is centered in the Asia-Pacific.

The big picture: "A large share of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year hangs around for hundreds of years. As a result, current global warming is the result of emissions from both the recent and more distant past," Rhodium notes.

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