Which nations are responsible for climate change?

Which nations are most responsible for climate change?
There are many different ways to compare the carbon footprints of the world’s nations. These include total emissions, per capita emissions, historical emissions and emissions as measured by consumption as opposed to production. Each gives a different insight – and none tells the whole story on its own. Following is quick guide to the data.
Current CO2 emissions
The simplest and most widely cited way to compare the emissions of countries is to add up all the fossil fuels burned in each nation and convert that into CO2. According to 2009 data <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2>  from the US Energy Information Administration <http://www.eia.doe.gov> , the top 10 emitters by this measure are:

1. China: 7,711 million tonnes (MT) or 25.4%
2. US: 5,425 MT or 17.8%
3. India: 1,602 MT or 5.3%
4. Russia: 1,572 MT or 5.2%
5. Japan: 1,098 MT or 3.6%
6. Germany: 766 MT 2.5%
7. Canada: 541 MT or 1.8%
8. South Korea: 528 MT or 1.7%
9. Iran: 527 MT or 1.7%
10. UK: 520 MT or 1.7%
See all countries <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2>
All greenhouse gas emissions
The problem with focusing purely on CO2 from burning fossil fuels is that it ignores other greenhouse gases and non-fossil-fuel sources of CO2. When these are included, the figures change considerably, with countries such as Brazil and Indonesia shooting up the list due to emissions caused by deforestation. Recent data isn’t available, but as of 2005, the top 10 emitters as measured in total greenhouse gases looked like this:

1. China: 7,216 MT or 16.4%
2. US: 6,931 MT or 15.7%
3. Brazil: 2,856 MT or 6.5%
4. Indonesia: 2,046 MT or 4.6%
5. Russia: 2,028 MT or 4.6%
6. India: 1,870 MT or 4.2%
7. Japan: 1,387 MT or 3.1%
8. Germany: 1,005 MT or 2.3%
9. Canada: 808 MT or 1.8%
10. Mexico: 696 MT or 1.6%
See all countries <http://cait.wri.org/cait.php?page=yearly&mode=view&sort=val-desc&pHints=shut&url=form&year=2005&sector=natl&co2=1&ch4=1&n2o=1&pfc=1&hfc=1&sf6=1&lucf=1&bunk=1&update=Update>  (free registration required)
Emissions per capita
Comparing nations can be misleading, given their vastly varied sizes and populations. To get a more meaningful picture, it’s essential also to consider emissions on a per-person basis <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2> . From this perspective, the list is topped by small countries with energy-intensive industries such as Qatar and Bahrain, and the large developing nations such as India and China look significantly less polluting. Here’s a selection of countries and their per-person CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels:

Australia: 19.6 tonnes
United States: 17.7 tonnes
Russia: 11.2 tonnes
Germany: 9.3 tonnes
UK: 8.4 tonnes
China: 5.8 tonnes
World average: 4.5 tonnes
India: 1.4 tonnes
Africa average: 1.1 tonnes
Chad: 0.03 tonnes
See all countries <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2>

As with national emissions, this list would look different if all greenhouse gases were included.
Historical emissions
Since carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere can stay there for centuries, historical emissions are just as important – or even more important – than current emissions. The tricky question of historical responsibility is one of the key tensions in the process of negotiating a global climate deal. The following figures from the World Resources Institute <http://earthtrends.wri.org/searchable_db/index.php?theme=3&variable_ID=779&action=select_countries>  show the top 10 nations as measured by their cumulative emissions between 1850 and 2007. The US tops the list by a wide margin.

1. US: 339,174 MT or 28.8%
2. China: 105,915 MT or 9.0%
3. Russia: 94,679 MT or 8.0%
4. Germany: 81,194.5 MT or 6.9%
5. UK: 68,763 MT or 5.8%
6. Japan: 45,629 MT or 3.87%
7. France: 32,667 MT or 2.77%
8. India: 28,824 MT or 2.44%
9. Canada: 25,716 MT or 2.2%
10. Ukraine: 25,431 MT or 2.2%
See all countries

Of course, it’s also possible to look at historical emissions per person, which turns things around yet again. In this view, the UK shoots close to the top of the rankings, while China drops towards the bottom.

1. Luxembourg: 1,429 tonnes
2. UK: 1,127 tonnes
3. US: 1,126 tonnes
4. Belgium: 1,026 tonnes
5. Czech Republic: 1,006 tonnes
6. Germany: 987 tonnes
7. Estonia: 877 tonnes
8. Canada: 780 tonnes
9. Kazakhstan: 682 tonnes
10. Russia: 666 tonnes
See all countries <http://cait.wri.org/cait.php?page=cumul&mode=view&sort=pc-desc&pHints=shut&url=form&start=1850&limit=0>
Consumption emissions
Imported and exported goods add another layer of complexity to the equation. Many commentators argue that focusing on where emissions are produced is unfair, because much of the carbon output of countries such as China are generated as a result of producing goods that are ultimately consumed in richer nations. If emissions are measured in terms of consumption rather than production <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/14/outsourced-emissions>  (that is, each country’s exports are excluded from its footprint, and its imports added) the tables turn yet again. The most widely cited international dataset for consumption emissions <http://www.carbonfootprintofnations.com/> , from 2001, is rather out of date, but it still provides interesting insights. Here’s the top 10 for consumption emissions per capita, including all greenhouse gases:

1. US: 29 tonnes
2. Australia: 21 tonnes
3. Canada: 20 tonnes
4. Switzerland: 18 tonnes
5. Finland: 18 tonnes
6. Netherlands: 17 tonnes
7. Belgium: 17 tonnes
8. Ireland: 16 tonnes
9. Cyprus: 16 tonnes
10. UK: 15 tonnes
See all countries <http://www.carbonfootprintofnations.com/content/ranking/>

By contrast, China comes in at just 3.1 tonnes, and India at 1.8 tonnes.
This question and answer is part of the Guardian’s ultimate climate change FAQ <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/the-ultimate-climate-change-faq>

guardian.co.uk <http://www.guardian.co.uk/> , Thursday 21 April 2011 15.40 BST

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
World carbon dioxide emissions data by country: China speeds ahead of the rest
World carbon emissions by country data is out. See how the US has gone down in CO2 production – and who has gone up
• Get the data <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2/print#data>

World carbon dioxide emissions by country: click image for graphic and download
World carbon dioxide emissions are one way of measuring a country’s economic growth too.

And the latest figures – published by the respected Energy Information Administration <http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=90&pid=44&aid=8>  – show CO2 emissions from energy consumption – the vast majority of Carbon Dioxide produced.

A reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions is not only the goal of environmentalists but also of pretty much every government in the world. Currently 192 countries have adopted the Kyoto protocol <http://unfccc.int/essential_background/kyoto_protocol/items/1678.php> . One fo the aims is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% of the 1990 levels by 2012 collectively forcountries starred on this list <http://unfccc.int/essential_background/kyoto_protocol/status_of_ratification/items/5524.php> .

The map, above (you can get it as a PDF file here <http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2011/02/10/CarbonWeb.pdf> ) is produced by Guardian graphic artists Mark McCormick <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/markmccormick>  and Paul Scruton <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/paulscruton> . It shows a world where established economies have large – but declining – carbon emissions <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/carbon-emissions> . While the new economic giants are growing rapidly. This newly-released data is from 2009 – the latest available.

On pure emissions alone, the key points are:

• China <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/china>  emits more CO2 than the US and Canada put together – up by 171% since the year 2000
• The US has had declining CO2 for two years running, the last time the US had declining CO2 for 3 years running was in the 1980s
• The UK is down one place to tenth on the list, 8% on the year. The country is now behind Iran, South Korea, Japan and Germany
• India is now the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2 – pushing Russia into fourth place
• The biggest decrease from 2008-2009 is Ukraine – down 28%. The biggest increase is the Cook Islands – up 66.7%

But that is only one way to look at the data – and it doesn’t take account of how many people live in each country. If you look at per capita emissions, a different picture emerges where:

• Some of the world’s smallest countries and islands emit the most per person – the highest being Gibraltar with 152 tonnes per person
• The US is still number one in terms of per capita emissions among the big economies – with 18 tonnes emitted per person
• China, by contrast, emits under six tonnes per person, India only 1.38
• For comparison, the whole world emits 4.49 tonnes per person

There are other sources of emissions data too, if you want to compare – albeit not as up-to-date:

• The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) <http://unfccc.int/ghg_data/ghg_data_unfccc/items/4146.php>  gathers the data on world carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is only available up to 2008.
• the International Energy Agency (IEA) has global carbon emissions data up to 2008 <http://www.iea.org/co2highlights/>

But what can we say about this data and how close we are to the collective targets in the Kyoto agreement?

The Kyoto protocol target emission does not include, but this EIA data does. You can’t tell this from the notes on the data <http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/docs/IPMNotes.html#ind> , but the EIA confirmed to us this was the case.

We can determine what the so called ‘bunker fuels’ are from the data here <http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=5&pid=66&aid=13> .

But only looking at carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t give us the total for all greenhouse gases.

So we’ll have to wait until the UNFCCC publishes the results of global greenhouse gasses collated data before we can draw any firm conclusions about meeting the Kyoto agreements.

The full data is below, going right back to 1980 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2/print#data> . What can you do with it?
Data summary


About durbanclimatejustice

Support, news and events for Climate Justice activists and organisations
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