With COP 26 fast approaching, politicians all around the world are discussing emissions targets, urging politicians in other countries to do more while defending their own plans and wallowing in the glory of their own achievements, whether genuine or not.
This is of course only to be expected, arguably completely necessary, and a far, far better thing than ignoring the whole issue. We all know that until net carbon emissions reach zero, the warming trajectory will continue upwards. If all the political jostling helps us get there it will be worth it. But the politics risks concealing as much as it reveals, especially where counties vie with each other.
It is true that China emits more CO2 than any other nation. It’s a big country. If China split itself into a dozen different countries their combined emissions would still be the same, but then USA, India, Russia and Japan would all be bigger emitters than these twelve Japan-sized countries. My point is that if you want to know which countries have the most work to do to get their emissions down, it is the emissions per person that you need to look at, not the size of the country.
Clearly, tiny countries don’t have as much impact as huge ones. So here is a table of all 58 countries with a significant population (over 20 million), ordered by their annual carbon emissions per person (in tonnes, 2016 data). The most important thing is to draw your own conclusions, but I can’t resist making one observation.
I’m struck by the huge differences in per person emissions. US emissions per person are more than twice those in China. UK emissions per person are more than ten times those in Bangladesh. Canadian emissions per person are more than one hundred times those of Tanzanians. No wonder those countries with the higher emissions talk about targets in terms of percentagereductions! The global average (2016) is 4.63 tonnes per person per year. Any country with emissions above this average has an awful lot to do.
|Country||Emissions per person per year (tonnes, 2016)|
Emissions data source: Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR)