China is likely to overtake the United States as the main cause of man-made global warming since 1990, the benchmark year for UN-led action, according to Reuters. This shift may raise pressure on Beijing to claim its historical responsibility on climate change.
The questions about historical blame for rising temperatures and the catastrophic results that are related to global warming (floods, desertification, heat waves and perhaps half of China being flooded) reflect the downside of China’s undisputed economic growth.
According to separate research by experts in Norway and the US, China’s cumulative greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 will outgrow those of the United States in 2015 and 2016.
Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo (CICERO) says the historic shift is related to the rising level of emissions per capita. US-based World Resources Institute has estimated that China’s carbon dioxide emissions will total 151 billion tonnes from 1990 up till 2016, compared to a total of 147 billion emitted by the US.
As the 2020 summit in Paris is getting closer, this shift in historic responsibility will turn heads towards China. The rising levels of carbon dioxide emissions “obviously does open China up to claims of responsibility from other developing countries,” according to Daniel Farber, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.
A UN principle which was enforced in 1992 meant that rich nations should lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions because their wealth has been based on burning coal, oil and natural gas since the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century. Nations that have yet to reach this economic development can use up more fossil fuels to catch up and bring an end to poverty.
China has already surpassed the United States as the top annual emitter of carbon dioxide in 2006 and now emits more each year than the United States and the European Union combined.
Beijing says the best way to measure historical responsibility would be per capita emissions since the Industrial Revolution. With that measure, China’s emissions would be less than a tenth of those of the United States.
With that being said, Beijing has made an effort to take responsibility and set its goal last year of peaking its rising emissions around 2030, perhaps before.
By Evelien van der Veer