The Rhodium Group just released its report on greenhouse gas emissions for over 190 countries from 1990-2019. This year’s report comes with a remarkable headline: China’s emissions have now surpassed the rest of the developed countries combined. 

The report states: 

In 2019, China’s GHG emissions passed the 14 gigaton threshold for the first time, reaching 14,093 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMt CO2e) (Figure 2). This represents a more than tripling of 1990 levels, and a 25% increase over the past decade. As a result, China’s share of the 2019 global emissions total of 52 gigatons rose to 27%.

In 2019, China’s emissions not only eclipsed that of the US—the world’s second-largest emitter at 11% of the global total—but also, for the first time, surpassed the emissions of all developed countries combined (Figure 2). When added together, GHG emissions from all members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as all 27 EU member states, reached 14,057 MMt CO2e in 2019, about 36 MMt CO2e short of China’s total.

This news comes at a time when China’s climate promises have included targets such as reaching peak emissions in the next 10 years, something drastically different from the goals of other countries, especially the most recent ones made by our own United States. 

Even since the coronavirus pandemic began, China has worked to rebuild its economy and has done so by utilizing the fastest and cheapest means: coal fired plants. These plants have been built and have further contributed to China’s emissions while the rest of the world has been clamouring for “rebuilding green” and other such slogans. 

While China has attempted to position itself as a climate leader, making non-binding commitments to reducing emissions eventually and releasing diplomatic statements about “cooperating…to tackle the climate crisis,” the country’s emissions speak for themselves. 

China’s leadership may grandstand as much as it likes but their actions betray no true steps to change or meaningfully improve their environmental record. Without that, it will be impossible to meaningfully reduce emissions and combat climate change on the international stage, absent major technological advancements. The United States’ true leadership and potential rests in encouraging this kind of innovation that we can use here at home, but also export around the world.