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The US is the biggest carbon emitter in history. Where do other nations stand?

Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

It's not just the United States — other major polluters around the world have also been falling behind the climate goals they set for themselves under the Paris agreement.

As the Biden administration virtually hosts the leaders of more than three dozen countries Thursday and Friday to discuss the need for more action on climate change, here's a look at where others stand, and what's preventing them from fulfilling their promises. In other words, who's been naughty, who's been nice, and who is still banking on more coal in their stockings this year.


China is the biggest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases, responsible for about 28% of the global total. And it is by far the largest consumer of coal. Although many activists and scientists hoped the country's carbon emissions would peak by 2025 — giving the world a better chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change — that goal now looks impossible.

China's emissions have continued to climb since 2015, when its leaders signed the Paris climate agreement. President Xi Jinping pledged last year that the country would achieve "carbon neutrality before 2060." But Xi has offered few details on how China would hit that target and, under pressure from the United States, has agreed to only a vague statement saying that countries should announce stronger emissions reduction goals.



Leaders of Germany, France and other EU member countries were thrilled when the United States rejoined the Paris agreement — and for good reason. The 27-nation bloc has been among the most ambitious in reducing its carbon emissions, pressing ahead and urging other countries to follow through on their pledges after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris accord.

On the eve of the climate summit, EU leaders agreed to a landmark climate law that would increase their target, cutting their collective greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by the end of the decade.

It was a hard-fought agreement, reached after months of negotiations and only after wealthier countries promised to help finance the energy transition in eastern countries like Poland and Hungary, which are still heavily dependent on coal for power generation.

The deal still needs to be formally approved by each nation's government and the European Parliament.


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