As the world wrestles with COVID-19, an impending doom looms over our head – Climate change. The drastic weather conditions have only accelerated in the past year with intense heatwaves, raging wildfires, severe droughts & floods, and the melting of glaciers at an unprecedented pace. The Arctic Sea Ice is now diminishing at a drastic rate of 13.1% per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average. These devastating effects on the Arctic Ice can easily be comprehended thanks to NASA’s scientific visualization of the Arctic Ice in 1979 and 2020.
Since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, human beings in their unrelenting pursuit of grandiose lifestyles have released more than 1.5 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. In fact, in just a year 2019, we emitted around 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide. This figure is almost three times more than that of 1970. Yet our only way out of this grave concern is to decrease our cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases. But who is responsible?
Who is responsible?
The developed countries, such as the US and the EU, relieved with their pietism by minimizing their emissions often blame the developing countries, especially China, for being solely responsible for emitting much more. They do it rightfully, but only to an extent. China does have the most coal-fired power plants in the world and almost half of the world’s coal supply is burned there.
On a yearly basis, China emits around 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide accounting for more than 25% of the world’s emissions today. The USA comes at number two with 15% and then the EU with 10%. These three industrial blocs alone make up more than 50% of emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide.
However, having industrialized without any constraints and now reaping its benefits, it is easier for the developed countries to shift the blame on others, expecting them to not industrialize and stay poor. Hence, isolating and emphasizing current events only gives a parochial view of reality.
If we consider the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions throughout history, the standpoint changes radically. The USA alone is responsible for a quarter of all historical emissions, sweeping China out of the picture. It has ejected around 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide and almost three-quarters of it in just the 20th century. Right behind them is the European Union accounting for 22% of global emissions historically. China comes in at third with 13%, almost half of the contribution of the USA.
A record increase in carbon emissions
To put things in perspective, where the United Kingdom is responsible for a mere 1% of global annual emissions today, it takes up 5% of historical emissions. Similarly, Germany, producing just 2% of global emissions currently, is responsible for 6% of emissions historically, as much as the whole of Africa and South America combined. Hence, promulgating the narrative that developing countries are to bear the sole blame for the rapid climate change is flawed at the very least.
Now regardless of the biggest emitters today or historically, the population of a country remains a key factor in catalyzing climate change. If a country has more number of people, its total emissions will be, in general, higher. With access to electricity, heating, air conditioning, and much more, an average human being is estimated to release 5 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
However, countries that are some of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide per person are also the world’s major oil and gas producers but they are an anomaly in the data. For instance, in 2017, Qatar with a population of 2.8 million people had the highest emissions at 49 tons per person each year; followed by Kuwait and UAE at 25 tons per person and Saudi Arabia at 19 tons.
In contrast, the USA and Canada have one of the highest carbon footprints per person, emitting over 16 tons of carbon dioxide per person each year. That is more than three times of an average human being. Now, China may be the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide today, but it is also the most populous; with a population of almost 1.4 billion, it accounts for over 18% of the world’s population. Yet it emits around 7 tons of carbon dioxide per person each year.
China’s measures against climate change
Climate change is a global obstacle and hence requires global leadership. When the USA, under the administration of President Donald Trump, began to withdraw from The Paris Agreement, China stepped up to spearhead the campaign.
Since 2014, China has waged a war on coal by shutting down small coal mines, setting limits on coal consumption, and canceling more than 100 coal plant projects, eliminating 120 GW of future coal-fired capacity. That is almost half of the entire current coal-fired capacity of the United States.
Moreover, it is the leading producer, investor, and consumer of renewable energy. Its enormous investments in clean and renewable energy have brought about a tremendous transformation at an astounding pace and scale.
China leads the world when it comes to hydropower with its total hydropower capacity at 356 GW in 2019, which is more than twice the amount of the whole European Union. Its 3 gorges dam is the biggest hydropower dam in the world.
Similarly, in terms of wind power, China accounts for a third of the global capacity totaling up to 288 GW. The US comes in at second with 122 GW of capacity. In the same vein, China is also leading the world in solar power with a total capacity of 253 GW. In 2017 alone, China installed a stupendous 35 GW solar plant, in just 7 months. To put this in perspective, it is more than twice the entire solar capacity of the United Kingdom.
China has truly epitomized how to diligently spearhead the fight against climate change. What it does at home has global implications. Just last year, President Xi Jinping claimed that China will go carbon neutral by 2060 showing its political will to decarbonize. However, despite its brilliant efforts, no country can overcome this global obstacle alone.
We lost crucial momentum when the Trump administration labeled climate change as a hoax, but the prospects don’t seem too bleak as the US also prioritizes climate change once again, under the administration of President Biden. It is only when the two major superpowers join hands that we have a chance of avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change throughout the world.
Mohammad Jamal Ahmed is a university of London graduate and can be contacted at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.