Tuesday, 25 August 2009

CO2 Emissions- theTop Fifteen Countries

CO2 emissions, and emissions growth rates are both important

In 2008 the fifteen top CO2 emitting countries together accounted for around three quarters of global CO2 emissions. These countries merit special attention during the COP15 climate change negotiations as their cooperation is important to achieving a successful outcome.

The trends in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2008 for the fifteen major emitting countries are shown in Figure7.1 using data compiled by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Figure 7.1 CO2 EmissionsTrends 1990-2008 - Top 15 countries (click image to enlarge)

These data illustrate the massive contributions to global CO2 emissions made by the USA and China, and that since the beginning of the new millennium, China has raced ahead of the USA to become the world's largest CO2 emitter.

The group of countries with the next highest levels of emissions (~0.5 -1.7 thousand million tonnes CO2 per year) is now a mixture of developed and developing countries a distinction which, in relation to GHG emissions, is becoming outmoded since CO2 emissions from developing countries now exceed those of developed countries.

In terms of climate change impact both the absolute values of CO2 emissions and emissions growth rates merit consideration.

In relation to the amount of CO2 emitted, a small percentage reduction from a 'large emitter' represents many millions of tonnes of CO2 per year which are not added to the environmental burden.

The same percentage reduction from a country with moderate to low emissions represents a much smaller quantity of 'CO2 not emitted'. Nevertheless, when summed over many countries, these smaller reductions are also valuable.

However for climate change negotiators, focusing their efforts on persuading countries with large CO2 emissions to reduce them would have more impact as a strategy to achieve mitigation of global warming then distributing their efforts more widely.

In Figure7.1 the steep rise in CO2 emissions from China and also India are evident, and although emissions are high the USA, they do not show comparable growth rates. Despite the inadequacies of the Kyoto agreement, the emissions trends of most developed countries in the top fifteen are not increasing as steeply as those of developing countries.

Figure7.2 CO2 Emissions 1990 and 2008 - Top Five Countries

The rate of growth of CO2 emissions in China and India is staggering, the former more than doubling between 1990 and 2008 and the latter increasing by ~140% (Figure 2). In climate change negotiations, persuading countries with the highest rate of CO2 emissions growth to moderate such growth is vital.

Continuing business as usual in countries with both high and growing CO2 emissions could overwhelm collective emissions reductions made by even those countries with moderate emissions.

Focus on the fifteen

Trying to broker a universal agreement in which all countries preferences are taken into account is the ideal, but it is a complex and time consuming process. Reaching an agreement to mitigate CO2 emissions is urgent so one which can satisfy all countries may not be possible in the timescale needed.

It may be that climate change negotiators would have more immediate impact by focusing on the Top Fifteen emitters of CO2. By persuading those countries with large CO2 emissions to agree to reduce them, and those with the highest CO2 emissions growth to moderate their emissions growth, a solution might be found.

* Footnote
Data are taken from a collation by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). In this post only CO2, not other GHG and LULUCF, is considered .The PBL data includes CO2 from cement manufacture.

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