Beijing is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases; the largest source of marine debris; the worst perpetrators of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and the world’s largest consumer of trafficked wildlife and timber products. While the Chinese people have suffered the worst environmental impacts of its actions, Beijing also threatens the global economy and global health by unsustainably exploiting natural resources and exporting its willful disregard for the environment through its One Belt One Road initiative. Tragically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) represses civil society and a free press, slowing changes that would benefit its citizens and people all over the world. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said, “Too much of the Chinese Communist Party’s economy is built on willful disregard for air, land, and water quality. The Chinese people-and the world-deserve better.”
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Despite claims of international environmental leadership, China’s energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are rising. It has been the world’s largest annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter since 2006. China’s total emissions are twice that of the United States and nearly one third of all emissions globally. Beijing’s energy-related emissions increased more than 80 percent between 2005-2019, while U.S. energy-related emissions have decreased by more than 15 percent. In 2019 alone, China’s energy-related CO2 emissions increased more than 3 percent, while the United States’ decreased by 2 percent. Beijing claims “developing-country” status to avoid shouldering more responsibility for reducing GHG emissions–though its per capita CO2 emissions have already reached the level of many high-income countries. China’s increasing emissions counteract the progress of many other countries around the world to reduce global emissions.
The Ozone Layer
Through the Montreal Protocol, the nations of the world agreed to phase out production of substances that damage the ozone layer. But scientists identified an increase of emissions of the phased-out, ozone-depleting substance CFC-11 from Eastern China from 2014 to 2017. The United States leads the international response and continues to push China to live up to its obligations and increase its monitoring and enforcement efforts.
In 2008, U.S. diplomats installed air quality monitors on top of U.S. Embassy Beijing. We shared the data publicly and revealed what local residents already knew: Beijing’s air quality was dangerously worse than the Chinese government was willing to admit. That small act of transparency helped catalyze a revolution in air quality management, and Beijing has since made air quality a priority, including establishing new ambient air quality standards. Despite significant improvements in large cities, the overall level of air pollution in China remains unhealthy, and air pollution from China continues to affect downwind countries.
The Department of State works to mitigate the global threat of air pollution through diplomacy, policy leadership, and targeted foreign assistance to advance U.S. objectives and incorporate innovative technologies into diplomatic and development programs while shaping markets to support U.S. exports. We will continue to advance U.S. interests globally through existing international agreements on air quality, including the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP) and shape efforts on air quality in the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). We will expand our work to build capacity to improve air quality management and shape markets for U.S. technology through the Air Quality Program, which currently manages twelve large air quality grants with a combined budget of $6.6 million.
China’s unsafe industrial processes also make it the world’s greatest emitter of mercury, a neurotoxin and a major public health threat when allowed to pollute air, water, and soil. China leads the world in mercury air pollution from its own coal-burning power plants, as well as the plants that Chinese state-owned companies finance, build, and operate in other countries. The United States was the first country to join the 2013 Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international agreement that seeks to protect human health and the environment by comprehensively addressing mercury sources, trade, its use in products, emissions, storage, and waste. In addition, the U.S. Department of State’s Mercury Program funds projects to promote better environmental practices among artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM), reducing the use of mercury used while maintaining or increasing the miners’ recovery of gold. The program also funds projects to reduce mercury emissions from coal combustion. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is also Party to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, yet it continues to enable its citizens to promote mercury use in ASGM in many developing countries.