China, U.S. continue to lead world in air pollution

China and the U.S. maintain their positions as the two largest air polluters in the world out of 190 countries, according to new data compiled by the Rhodium Group, coming in at nos. 1 and 2, respectively. 

China’s contributions were staggeringly high in comparison to other nations, accounting for a plurality of 27 percent of the 52 gigatons of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in 2019.

Second behind it, the U.S. made up 11 percent of GHG emissions, followed by India, the European Union, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil and Japan in the list of top eight emitters

China’s emissions have been steadily increasing since The Rhodium Group first collected the data in 1990, but 2019 was a pivotal year: the first time the country’s emissions alone exceeded the total volume of emissions from all countries listed as members in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

“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,” the report read. 

This boom is largely thanks to per capita emissions rates rising among Chinese citizens, according to the report.

The U.S., however, is still the leader in per capita emissions, with about 17.6 tons of GHGs emitted per singular person. By comparison, China stands at 10.5 tons per citizen.

Researchers note that when 2020 data is available, they expect to see the per capita emissions from China exceed all others among OECD countries, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that halted travel, leading to a cut in carbon emissions.

Although China’s growth in pollution is rapid, GHG released into the atmosphere can linger for hundreds of years, implying that current climate change and warming temperatures are a cumulative outcome of decades of steadily rising air pollution. 

“Since 1750, members of the OECD bloc have emitted four times more CO2 on a cumulative basis than China,” the report reads. “This overstates the relative role of OECD emissions in the more than 1 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures that has occurred since before the industrial revolution.” 

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