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 September 22, 2014
China Tops Europe for First Time in Per-Capita Pollution

 China surpassed the European Union in pollution levels per capita for the first time last year, propelling the greenhouse gases that cause global warming to a record.

Each person in China produced 7.2 tons of carbon dioxide on average compared with 6.8 tons in Europe and 1.9 tons in India in 2013, according a study by the Global Carbon Project. Those countries along with the U.S. accounted for almost two-thirds of emissions and 80 percent of the growth in pollution.

The findings show the scale of the challenge of reining in the emissions damaging Earth. The scientists estimate that humans already have spewed into the atmosphere two-thirds of the carbon allowable under scenarios that avoid irreversible changes to the planet. If pollution continues at the current rate, the limit for carbon will be reached in 30 years.

"We are nowhere near the commitments needed to stay below 2 degrees Celsius of climate change, a level that will be hard to reach for any country, including rich nations," said Corinne Le Quere, co-author of the report and a director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, England. "CO2 growth now is much faster than it was in the 1990s, and we're not delivering the improvements in carbon intensity we anticipated 10 years ago."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sept. 23 is gathering world leaders, business executives and environmentalists to discuss ways to combat global warming at a summit in New York. While U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the two-day meeting, the top leaders of China, India and Germany won't be there.

UN Summit

Ban's meeting is intended to inject fresh momentum into UN-mandated negotiations aimed at producing a global climate-protection treaty at a conference in Paris in December 2015. Negotiators from 190 nations seek to gather emissions reduction pledges from rich and poor nations by next August. The deal would take effect from 2020.

Emissions grew 4.2 percent in China, 2.9 percent in the U.S. and 5.1 percent in India last year. The EU's pollution level declined 1.8 percent because of weaker economic growth. Worldwide, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are projected to rise 2.5 percent this year to more than 40 billion tons.

Emissions must fall by 5 percent or more a year for several decades to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Global Carbon Budget report released by the scientists today. That's the level scientists identify as the limit before dangerous changes to the climate kicks in.

Last Ice Age

Temperatures have already increased by 0.85 of a degree since 1880, and the current trajectory puts humanity on course for a warming of at least 3.7 degrees Celsius, the UN has estimated. That's quicker than the shift in the climate came when the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago.

Those risks include greater temperature swings, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, more pervasive heatwaves and increased water shortages in areas stressed by drought, industry demands and rising populations.

While China's pollution is mainly due to its use of coal -- the country gets about 65 percent of its energy from the dirtiest fuel -- 16 percent of its emissions come from exported goods, for example to Europe, Le Quere said.

China, which has the world's biggest installed renewable-energy capacity after it boosted electricity production from wind turbines and solar panels, on Sept. 19 pledged to cut carbon emissions per unit of industrial GDP by 50 percent in 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

"Annual emissions eventually have to go down to zero this century if we want to stop warming," Le Quere said in a phone interview. "I don't think that has sunk in with world leaders yet."