By Barbara Kessler

In the race for top carbon emissions polluter, the United States is still Number One, but China is sprinting forward and could soon edge into the lead. The current Olympics host nation accounted for a “staggering 57 percent of the growth of emissions” worldwide this century, and will likely surpass the U.S. as the single biggest belcher of fossil fuel emissions sometime this year, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

The standings right now: The U.S. currently contributes 19.5 percent of global fossil fuel emissions compared with China’s 18.3 percent.

China’s pole vault onto the world stage of top polluters has been fueled by rapid industrialization and huge growth in coal plants, which provide about 70 percent of the nation’s commercial electricity, according to the Vital Signs Update released Thursday by Worldwatch, a Washington research and watchdog group.

Still, the United States can claim one title that leaves China far behind, the United States’ per capita carbon emissions eclipse that of all other nations. They exceed China’s by 4 to 1 and India’s by 13 to 1, according to the report.

The burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – accounts for the majority of CO2 emissions, which means most industrialized nations contribute to the rising cloud of greenhouse gases (which include CO2 and other gases) encircling the globe. Coal is the worst polluter, giving off more carbon gases per unit of energy generated, and it is also the cheapest.

Globally, carbon emissions grew by 20 percent from 2000 to 2007, according to the Worldwatch analysis. Industrializing India contributed 8 percent of that growth. The United States’ and Europe’s emissions accounted for 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

As the report points out, accords between industrialized and developing nations, will be key to regulating spiraling carbon emissions. This is one race best run in reverse.

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