LONDON China could face increasing pressure in U.N. climate talks after data released on Wednesday showed the country's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel rose by 9 percent in 2009, bucking a global downtrend.
China's greenhouse gases from fuels like oil and coal grew to 7.5 billion tonnes, even though global emissions fell for the first time since 1998 as industrial output and fuel consumption dropped amid a global recession, BP data showed.
China, the first nation to emit over 7 billion tonnes of CO2 in a year, increased its lead over the United States, the second-largest emitter which it surpassed in 2008.
U.S. fossil fuel emissions fell by 6.5 percent to 5.9 billion tonnes, the lowest level since 1995, BP said in its annual Statistical Review of World Energy.
Global fossil fuel emissions slid by 1.1 percent to 31.13 billion tonnes after peaking at 31.55 billion tonnes in 2008.
China's emissions have grown sharply in the past decade as the country built scores of new carbon-belching coal plants to power its meteoric economic growth.
Though many observers say China needs to do more to curb its emissions growth, some pointed out that absolute emissions is a single factor that needs to be considered against others, and that historical levels should also be taken into account.
"We need to look at a basket of indicators that includes absolute emissions, as well as emissions per unit of GDP, emissions per capita and, critically, historical emissions, a category in which the U.S. consistently leads," said Nick Robins, head of HSBC's Climate Change Center of Excellence.
"In terms of future emissions targets, China is ahead of the U.S. because it has set itself commitments to reduce carbon intensity, while the U.S. is struggling to get climate legislation through Congress."
China has pledged to cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of national income by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
The U.S. has offered to cut its 2005 emissions by 17 percent, or 4 percent below 1990 levels, but climate bills supporting this goal have stalled in Congress.
Both countries are under pressure to lead talks to extend the Kyoto Protocol climate pact or iron out a successor agreement at UN talks in Mexico later this year, as well as to adopt legally-binding carbon emissions targets of their own.
Kyoto binds the greenhouse gas emissions of around 40 developed nations, but its future is in doubt after its first leg expires after 2012.
China would like a future deal under Kyoto's framework, but has said this will be difficult without the support of the United States, which did not ratify the treaty.
Other emerging market economies stand behind China.
Emissions from emerging countries, which now account for half the global total, grew by over five percent last year, BP data showed. Emerging countries also increased their lead over OECD nations, which saw their emissions fall by six percent.
"Although the share of emerging markets is growing, the industrialized countries remain the preponderant source of historical greenhouse gases," Robins said.
India's fossil fuel emissions grew by seven percent to overtake Russia, making it the third largest emitter.
Dampened power demand and lower industrial output caused a six percent decrease in European Union fossil fuel emissions, while Japan felt the biggest percentage drop in the Group of Eight industrialized counties at 11.8 percent.
World oil consumption fell by 1.2 million barrels per day last year, the second consecutive annual decline and the largest percentage drop since 1982, while global coal consumption was near unchanged at 3.28 billion million tonnes of oil equivalent.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)