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[BEIJING] China might overtake the United States by 2010 to become the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas that leads to global warming, unless strong policy action is taken.

The forecast is part of the scenario revealed by an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that was released yesterday (7 November), called the World Energy Outlook 2006.

The document warns that global energy demand could increase by 53 per cent between now and 2030, with developing countries led by China and India contributing 70 per cent of the growth.

If current trends continue it says, global carbon-dioxide emissions will reach 40 billion tons by 2030, rising 55 per cent above current levels.

Chen Ying, the deputy director of the Research Centre for Sustainable Development, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says the prediction that China will surpass the United States in emissions of carbon dioxide in four years time is "not impossible".

Previous predictions estimated that China, whose energy consumption grew by 9.5 per cent last year, would overtake the United States to become the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter between 2015 and 2020.

IEA executive director Claude Mandil says governments must both promote energy efficiency and invest in new energy supplies, with more than US$20 trillion needed to build energy-supply infrastructure to meet the growing demand.

The report recommends that countries invest in nuclear and renewable power to help reduce demand for fossil fuels and the emissions associated with them.

But Chen warns that China's projected rise in use of nuclear and renewable power — such as hydropower — is unlikely to contribute to significant emissions reductions. Instead, more effort must be spent on increasing China's energy efficiency, she told SciDev.Net.