There's a dà xiàng in the room when it comes to addressing climate change. Dà xiàng is mandarin for elephant. And if you want to get your head around the latest data on greenhouse gas emissions, you'll need to look to China. A report on global emissions released this week by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission should put paid once and for all to the fallacy that climate change can be addressed by rich countries taking the lead and "developing" countries following later on. This is a core principle of global efforts to address climate change and has been since the formation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 20 years ago. The principle made sense then. It doesn't now. The world has missed that boat, and nothing short of a fundamental overhaul of the principles and approaches of international climate negotiations is likely to achieve the UN's agreed goal of restraining warming to two degrees. Here's why: the Dutch report, Trends in global CO2 emissions 2012, found China emitted 29% of global emissions in 2011 -- making it the largest emitter by a significant margin. China's national emissions rose by a staggering 9% in 2011 alone, having risen by 150% over the past decade.

China's per capita emissions increased by 9% in 2011 and are now 7.2 tonnes of CO2 per person, which, the report notes, is "similar to the per capita emissions in the European Union". China's per capita emissions are now higher than France, Italy and Spain. International climate negotiations are proceeding on the basis that "developed" countries should take the lead and accept binding targets to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol process, while "developing" countries (including China) can wait to submit to this process from 2020, when a new universal legal instrument is supposed to come into force. This approach is equitable and ethically sound. It is also not feasible. The Dutch report found that global emissions, which had dipped for a few years because of the GFC,  increased by 3% in 2011, reaching an "all-time high" of 34 billion tonnes of CO2. The report calculated that at this rate, the world would use up its "carbon budget" for the period 2000-2050 by 2032. In other words, global warming will not be restrained to two degrees if we keep this up. (The report's data covers emissions from energy use and industries, but not forestry or forest fires.) The distinction between "developed" and "developing" countries no longer reflects reality; looking at the figures, the world has to find a way to dramatically rein in China's emissions, and pretty soon, to get back on track. That's the realpolitik. The ethics of the situation is different, and one in which Australia and the US are the villains -- not China. The report grants the perennial high-polluting Australia the dubious honour of having the highest per capita emissions.