Climate Change Facts: Comparing China with the West

The Western media’s focus on China as “the world’s worst polluter” is devious and dishonest. The purpose of this article is to present the facts.

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Western mainstream media created Greta Thunberg as a pop celebrity, and so when she recently criticized China (and by implication the entire Global South), it is not surprising that her comments provoked a response. Thunberg is reported to have declared that being a developing nation is “no excuse for ruining future and present living conditions We can’t solve the climate crisis unless China drastically changes course.” Whatever Thunberg’s actual intentions are, her out of context comments are used by the mainstream media oligarchies to promote the falsehood that China is not vigorously combating climate change.

China is of course the world’s most populous nation. This is a very convenient for Western anti-China rhetoric, as it makes it easy to setup a “straw-man” comparison to the USA or individual European states. It is also exploited by the West in its xenophobic psychological warfare against China.

The way in which data is aggregated, or in this case, disaggregated, has a huge influence on perception and the capacity for demonization of China and its government. However, if we aggregate the same data in a slightly different way, the underlying data is not altered, but the “obvious” conclusions suddenly appear as less “objective” and clearly politically motivated

For the purpose of comparison in this article we consider “the Western” industrialised countries to be the USA, Europe, Japan, South Korea, the UK, Canada and Australia.

Below China Environment News looks at the West as a geopolitical bloc and compares it with China in respect to climate change. When this is done, the basis of a very different narrative emerges.

Key points concealed by comparing China the most populous nation with individual Western countries

  1. China and the Western industrialised countries each account for about 18% of total world population. The difference in population between China and the Western nations is less than 1%.
  2. Between them, China and the Western countries make up 38% of the world’s population and produce 69% of global annual CO2 emissions.
  3. China’s annual CO2 emissions are 13% (3.1 billion tonnes) less than the West’s annual emissions.
  4. China’s per capital CO2 emissions (6.86 tonnes) are about half of those of the West’s average of 12.1 tonnes, and only 41-44% those of Canada (15.59 t), USA (16.16 t) and Australia (16.88 t).
  5. China’s cumulative CO2 emissions (220 Bt) are only 19% of world cumulative emissions, while the West is responsible for at least three quarters of global cumulative CO2 emissions.
  6. China’s net share of CO2 emissions embedded in international trade is negative (-10%). Whenever a good is imported we need to include all CO2 emissions that were emitted in the production of that good, and vice versa to subtract all CO2 emissions that were emitted in the production of goods that were exported. In China’s case, this means that 10% of its annual CO2 production needs to be deducted and credited to the importing country where the products are consumed (USA, Europe, etc).
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May be an image of text that says "Per capita CO2 emissions Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and cement production. Land use change is not included. 20 OurWorld iDat 15t 10t Australia United States Canada 5t South Korea Japan Europe (excl. EU-27) EU-27 China United Kingdom World 0t 1800 1850 1900 Source: Our World Data based on the Global Carbon Project; Gapminder Note: CO2 emissions measured production basis, meaning they 1950 2000 2017 UN correct or emissions Û traded goods. embedded"

Population (billions)

  • China = 1.444 (18.36 % of world population)
  • West = 1.390 (17.67 % of world population)
  • China + West = 2.980 (38 % of world population)World = 7.865

Annual CO2 emissions (billion tonnes – Bt)

  • China = 10.7
  • West = 13.8
  • China + West = 23.98 Bt (69% of total world emissions)

Per capital CO2 emissions (tonnes)

  • China = 6.86
  • USA = 16.16
  • Europe = 7.54
  • Japan = 9.31
  • S Korea = 12.15
  • UK = 5.82
  • Australia =16.88
  • Canada = 15.59

Cumulative CO2 emissions (Bt) in 2019

  • China = 220 (14% of world total cumulative emissions)
  • West = 1146 (74% of world total cumulative emissions)
  • China + West = 1366 Bt (87% of world total cumulative emissions

Share of CO2 emissions embedded in trade

  • China = – 10.01 %
  • USA = + 6.31 %
  • Japan = +15.56 %
  • S Korea = + 8.36 %
  • U K = +42.1 %
  • France = +33.21 %
  • Australia = – 8.9 %
  • Germany = +14.06 %
  • Italy = +33.84 %
  • Canada = + 0.31 %


The data used is from the Our World in Data website (, with population data taken from the Worldometer website (

For a realistic comparison we have have taken 8 geographic entities which between them produce 69% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions – China, USA, Japan, South Korea, UK, Canada, Australia, and Europe (all of Europe, not simply the EU).

Quite fortuitously, such an aggregation has the effect of allowing comparison of CO2 emissions from two largely equivalent populations. These geographic blocs allow for a practical comparison of the “Western” industrialised economies (lead in geopolitical terms by the USA), and the huge Chinese economy, which stands alone for the purposes of our comparison.

China Environment News: 12 May 2021


Dr Paul Rutherford is editor of China Environment News. He has a PhD in ecological studies and environmental regulation from the Australian National University, as well as a Bachelor in Science Studies and Masters studies in social theory and philosophy. He has over 35 years experience in environmental policy, legislation and regulatory practice; he is a qualified environmental auditor and an experienced investigator and prosecutor. He has worked on a wide range of environmental, conservation and natural resource matters with government agencies, environmental regulators, environmental NGOs, university research and teaching, and private consulting.

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