Paris-Signing China Cultivates Fossil Fuels Over Renewables As Paris-Rejecting USA’s Emissions Keep Falling

The Paris Paradox:

Sign the Agreement, Increase Emissions

Reject the Agreement, Reduce Emissions

China: Emissions Reduction Symbolism Over Substance

A little over a year ago, China was hailed as a country that was “stepping up” to combat climate change.  After all, the country had agreed to sign on to the Paris climate accord and to emphasize renewables (wind and solar) in new power generation.

The commitment to the Paris climate accord was apparently more symbolic and rhetorical than substantive, however.

China’s fossil fuel-based energy production is currently (2018) increasing 3.5 times faster than its renewables (wind and solar) energy production as the country phases out renewable subsidies and returns to building more coal plants.

According to the Institute for Energy Research, “Approximately 46.7 gigawatts of new and restarted coal-fired power construction has been spotted through satellite imagery.”

Graph Source: IER

China is by far the top CO2 emitter in the world, by itself accounting for about 30% of the globe’s overall yearly emissions.

And in 2017, China again led the world in CO2 emissions increases.

Graph Source: AEI

United States: Emissions Reduction Substance Over Symbolism

Citing the extraordinarily high costs (a price tag of $2.4 trillion per year according to the latest IPCC report) and an “unfair” burden to US taxpayers, the United States symbolically rejected the Paris climate accord in June, 2017.

And despite this rhetorical “backing away” from CO2 mitigation efforts,  the U.S. continued to lead the world in CO2 emissions reductions during 2017.

Natural Gas Has Led The Way In U.S. Emissions Reductions

Why has the U.S. been so successful in reducing its emissions?  Primarily because the country has continued replacing coal-fired power generation with much cleaner natural gas, which halves emissions relative to coal as it supplies readily-available and reliable energy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Natural gas cuts 2.6 times more CO2 emissions than wind and 4 times more CO2 emissions than solar.

Image Source: Western Energy Alliance

Due primarily to the CO2 mitigation afforded by transitioning to natural gas, the U.S. has already (2017) met its emissions targets.

“Before considering the future, it is worth examining just how far we’ve already come without any federal CO2 regulation (for existing power plants) in the U.S. Figure 1 illustrates historical CO2 emissions and natural gas prices from 2005 through 2017 (estimated). During that period, emissions have declined from nearly 2.7 billion tons to approximately 1.9 billion tons (30%), while revealing a strong link to natural gas prices. To be sure, while other factors (such as renewable energy incentives) also had an impact, the clearest means by which to reduce CO2 emissions has been to reduce the cost of generating electricity with less CO2-emitting fuels (i.e., substituting natural gas for coal).”
So successful have market forces been under the existing regulatory framework to date that estimated 2017 CO2 emission levels are already at the CPP’s 2025 target (albeit without accounting for electricity demand growth between 2017 and 2025), well exceeding the AEO’s own Reference Case projections for 2025.” (Anderson et al., 2018)

U.S. Per Capita Emissions Continue Dropping Too

Though still high relative to most countries in the European Union, the United States’ per capita emissions have fallen rather precipitously this century.  Again, this is mostly due to the aforementioned transition from coal to natural gas power generation.

The U.S. now (2016) ranks 16th in the world in CO2 emissions per capita (15.56 tons).  This rate is well behind Canada (18.62), Luxembourg (17.61), and Australia (17.22) – other wealthy countries that have, unlike the U.S., signed on to the Paris agreement.

Data Source: EDGAR

As of 2000, or before the large-scale transition to natural gas, U.S. per capita emissions stood at 20.60 tons, up slightly from the 1990 rate (19.59).

With the dip to 15.65 tons by 2016, the U.S.’s yearly per capita emissions have therefore declined by about 25% in just a decade and a half.

In contrast, China’s yearly per capita CO2 emissions output has risen from 1.97 tons in 1990 and 2.84 tons in 2000 to 7.45 tons per capita as of 2016.  That’s an increase of 378% since 1990 for this developing country with nearly 1.5 billion people.  At this rate, per capita emissions in China may exceed the U.S. rate within the next few decades.

China & U.S.: Contrasting CO2 Emission Mitigation Trajectories

Between China and the U.S., the country that is headed in the “right” direction – reducing CO2 emissions, closing coal plants, and purportedly mitigating climate change – is the one that has rejected the Paris climate accord and its commitments.

And the country that is veering off in the “wrong” direction – increasing its CO2 emissions and rapidly building more coal plants – is the one that agreed to sign on to the Paris climate accord and the concomitant emissions reduction commitments.

The U.S. – not China – is acting in a way that aligns with the spirit and the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

And yet because symbolism and rhetoric seem to be the primary focus as it relates to governmental CO2 mitigation policies, it’s China – not the U.S. – that is lauded for its “leadership”.

China has become a global leader in policy and diplomacy on limiting the effects of climate change...” (New York Times. July, 2018)

Again, China is (easily) leading the world in overall CO2 emissions and in  the construction of new coal plants.  It’s also producing 3.5 times more electricity from fossil fuels than from wind and solar in its new power generation.

And yet China is astonishingly hailed as the “new low-carbon champion” for its “climate mitigation leadership” in a new paper published in the journal Nature.

Since 2008, the Chinese government has switched to a proactive stance on climate governance and low-carbon development. Due to significant improvements in CO2 efficiency and a clear slow-down in the rise of its annual total CO2 emissions, China is increasingly perceived as a new low-carbon champion and appears to be in a position to take over global climate mitigation leadership.” (Engels, 2018)

China’s anointed position as a climate change mitigation leader and champion is baffling in its irony.

23 responses to “Paris-Signing China Cultivates Fossil Fuels Over Renewables As Paris-Rejecting USA’s Emissions Keep Falling”

  1. SebastianH

    Due primarily to the CO2 mitigation afforded by transitioning to natural gas […]

    Further reading:

    And nope, it’s not all natural gas, in fact only a third of the CO2 emission reduction was achieved by switching from coal to natural gas:

    [Sorry, but you’re going to need to provide a more reliable source link than “”]

    Well done, United States of America! But you are still a heavy weight per capita emitter… and I still don’t get how halfing the coal emissions by replacing them with natural gas emissions can ever get the US to zero emissions.

    Again, China is (easily) leading the world in overall CO2 emissions and in the construction of new coal plants.

    While it would be of course much better if China could stay at and eventually reduce their absolute carbon emissions, who are we to apply higher standard to them than ourselves (meaning western countries)?

    And yep, they are the low-carbon technology leaders now. Partly because the US and Europe (Germany) let it happen. Solar panels come from China, batteries come from China and I assume they also install the most wind turbines on this planet now.

    How is it possible that the irony of China’s anointed position as “climate change mitigation” leader and champion has continued to slip past so many?

    There is no irony. The irony is with calling the US a CO2 emission reduction champion with their super high per capita emissions.

  2. John F. Hultquist

    Thanks for the information.

    Note in the 2nd chart (blue horizontal bars) the USA is in the ‘reductions’ category along with Venezuela. In the former, wealth is being increased, in Venezuela wealth is being destroyed. For the USA, folks are committing illegal acts to get in, while in Venezuela citizens are committing illegal acts to get out.

    Many things are going on in the USA other than the use of more gas and less coal.
    Capitalism and competition (and regulation) have resulted in energy uses being more efficient. New houses, new autos, freezers, and hundreds of other things (millions of each type of item) allow a higher standard of living and more efficient use of energy.

  3. mikewaite

    In order to conduct a clear discussion about AGW or anthropogenic climate change it is necessary to distinguish 2 issues that are related but not identical.

    1.Are we, as a global community, trying to reduce the total amount of CO2 emitted by human activities. If so then, judged by their recent records, we have to admonish China and praise USA.

    2. Should we, however, be we more concerned with allowing equality between nations wrt emissions/capita. If so then we must permit China to continue emitting more CO2, if it feels that that is necessary and despite the global warming effects of such emissions, whilst at the same time urging USA to reduce drastically its dependence on fossil fuels.

    Both arguments are respectable and relevant topics, but what one should not do, if one wants to be taken seriously, is to mix the 2 topics together, simply I suspect to satisfy an instinctive and personal desire to castigate USA even though it is doing more than other nations to reduce its carbon footprint.

  4. Bitter&twisted


  5. Derg

    I think it is interesting how much China does not believe in rising sea levels….they sure are building lots of islands in the China sea

  6. Steve

    Well all that is great and USA leading the way, haha MAGA. But my question is this…is C02 a problem?
    Answer= NO

  7. Don from OZ

    Agreed Steve.
    Despite that Why is the world not turning to thorium?
    Very low radioactive waste
    Zero CO2 emissions.(should placate the greenies – oops sorry they are unplacatable) and would take the heat (no pun intended) out of the debate.

    1. SebastianH

      Not agreeing with Steve for obvious reasons. Thorium reactors are fantasy tech as if now. If a economical demonstrator would exist, I am sure some kind of nuclear renaissance would happen. So far – like with fusion – we are a long way from having useable tech.

      Oh and those not in your bubble who you seem to group together as “greenies” are not all against using nuclear reactors …

      I’ll reply to the rest of the comments later today.

  8. Robert Folkerts

    If co2 emissions were a problem that needed mitigating, I don’t see the per capita idea as very good. The world is something of a global community but not all people’s are engaged in the same activities. Some countries economies are industry based with necessarily higher emissions than an agricultural based economy. But the industry provides equipment for agriculture. So to have per capita limits is not recognizing and allowing for different contributions to humanity, is it?

  9. Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #334 | Watts Up With That?

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