But today's report, which only covers emissions from energy, by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) show that per capita emissions in China increased by 9% in 2011 to reach 7.2 tonnes per person, only a fraction lower than the EU average of 7.5 tonnes.
The figure for the US is still much higher – at 17.3 tonnes – though total Chinese CO2 emissions are now around 80% higher than those of America. This widening gap reflects a 9% increase in total emissions in China in 2011, driven mainly by rising coal use, compared with a 2% decline in the US.
For the purpose of comparison, the population of the EU is around 500 million compared to 1.3 billion for China.
According the the PBL Netherlands report, the largest emitters per capita in the world are still the coal-happy Australians at 19 tons per person. Unlike the U.S. and Europe, Australia's per capita emissions have actually increased over the last two decades.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images