China Is a Rich Country. It Can No Longer Cry Poor on Climate

At the time of the first major climate change conference, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, China was one of the least developed nations. Its per capita income was below Haiti, Niger and Pakistan. The export sector was smaller than that of Sweden or Austria, and its airports saw fewer departures than Norway’s.

Its emissions were just 12% of the global total, and on a per-capita basis it wasn’t even in the top 50 emitters. As recently as 1985, China had generated less electricity than Canada, and produced less steel than West and East Germany.

With nations set to gather for the latest such meeting in Dubai this week, things have changed beyond recognition.

Poor Little Rich Kid

China is likely to produce half the world’s steel and coal this year, and emit more carbon than every developed nation put together. Even adjusting for its huge population, it now consumes more energy and generates more pollution per person than most countries in western Europe. Visitors to its sparkling cities find a country whose amenities rival those of the richest nations. China’s roads, railways, power facilities, public buildings and other infrastructure now add up to a richer stock of public capital per capita than can be found in Australia, Spain or the UK.