Who reads this blog and what do they think of it? Results of reader survey

June 29, 2012

What difference does accountability make? Six real life examples from Tanzania (and a great job opportunity)

June 29, 2012

Carbon emissions per person, by country etc – here's the latest data (and it doesn't look good)

June 29, 2012
empty image
empty image

The Guardian has an excellent interactive table summarizing the latest data on carbon emissions (for 2010). There’s also a nice interactive map where you can click and get the trajectory for any given country (see below). The data are published by the US Energy Information Administration, and our climate wonks tell me they are solid.

The numbers are for energy emissions only, and so don’t include emissions from land use change / deforestation (much more difficult to measure) but are a decent proxy for overall emissions profiles, although land use will have a big impact on some countries and yes, overall emissions will indeed be even higher when land use is included. So here’s the headline numbers:

China carbon emissions Guardian

The world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon from the consumption of energy in 2010 – up 6.7% on the year before. The figure is up by 48% on 1992, when the first Rio summit took place.

China – which only went into first place in 2006 – is racing ahead of the US. It emitted 8.3bn tonnes of CO2 in 2010 – up 240% on 1992, 15.5% on the previous year.  China now emits 48% more CO2 than the USA – and is responsible for a quarter of the world’s emissions. It now emits more per capita than France.

Gibraltar has the highest per capita emissions in the world – 135.3 tonnes per person per year, compared to 8.5 tonnes in the UK and 6.3 tonnes in China. I presume that’s kind of weird data glitch born of low population, shipping or something. If not, someone really should start a campaign – Spain maybe?

The global average is now up to 4.6 tonnes per person, well over double the level necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. India (1.4 tonnes) and Africa (1.1 tonnes) are below the sustainability threshold, but virtually everyone else is above it. Interestingly, Brazil comes in pretty close at just 2.3 tonnes.

Of the major, non oil economies, Singapore takes the biscuit for Mr Global Dirty, with 36.6 tonnes per person, followed by Luxembourg climatechange_cartoon(21.7t), Australia (18.8t) and US (16.1t).

Which I fear all goes to show that, as well as doing our utmost to turn the emissions supertanker around, we have to start thinking through the likely political and developmental implications of a +4 or +6 degree world. End of the species may be one answer, but that actually encourages people to stop thinking about it. More certain are nasty distributive conflicts over access to resources combined with climate upheaval, which are going to put huge pressures on haves v have nots (e.g. excluding poor people still further from access to fossil fuels, water or fertile land) – that’s the scenario we are seeing already in some land grabs related to biofuels or carbon markets, and it will only get more frequent. A bum note for the weekend, sorry.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for this useful source Duncan. Always worth remembering with the official CO2 figs that they are calculated on a production not consumption basis. For countries like China with high exports that can make a big difference. China burns a lot of coal making a large amount of stuff, but a relatively high proportion of that stuff is put on ships and taken to Europe and the US where it is bought and used by us. If you count the embedded carbon in that stuff as ours instead of China’s (which is a reasonable approach in many ways), then the totals and per capita figs look very different. But of course the figure that doesn;t is the global total, and that says we are all going to hell in a handcart (despite what Mr Exxon thinks…).

  2. Following Matthew’s comment – should we assess a country’s carbon emissions in terms of production or consumption? I used to think that it should, obviously, be in terms of consumption. But given that any country planning to impose border carbon taxes to reduce imported carbon would fast be accused of green protectionism, is it really that straight forward? What policy tools do countries have at hand to reduce imported carbon?

    If the situation were reversed – eg the UK burning loads of coal to produce carbon-heavy exports – then we wouldn’t waive away our concern about them, claiming that they were the responsibility of others overseas – we’d call on our government to clean up the UK’s production emissions.

    So surely the responsibility has to be counted both ways. China’s emissions are as much their production emissions as they are our consumption emissions.

    Or does anyone have another way of rationalising this?

  3. Hi Duncan,
    Great post, what Matthew and Kate are mentioning makes sense.

    Stand still for a moment and think of what is happening. We ask countries in the tropics to produce all kinds of stuff like shoes, clothes, furniture, and electronics.

    Not because they are better in doing it, not at all it’s only because of their cheap labor cost.

    Farmers are transformed into factory workers. This is one of the reasons why the most fruitful land on earth is laying bare. People run to the cities looking for a better life.

    In the meantime we are trying to produce under the wrong conditions; we need glasshouses, heating etc. for plants and vegetables which are not even supposed to grow in Northern Europe or America.

    Our factories are empty, whole industries don’t exist anymore. Our demand for cheap and more has put the world up site down.

    Industrialized countries are exporting corn, wheat, rice and vegetables.

    From origin agriculture countries exporting products previously made at home.

    You only need to think about a company like Apple and you understand.

    I have a plan what is more than just another environmental improvement method or apparatus; my plan is about changing the world by creating the right jobs at the right place.

Leave a comment