What’s in a picture?

At this week’s ADP meeting in Bonn, both developing and developed country delegations have characterized their GHG emissions quite persuasively.  China has focused on per capita and historical accountability statistics, while the U.S. highlighted the percentage responsibilities for total CO2 currently in the atmosphere.

A new study slices up the actual degrees of global warming attributable to each country.  For example, of the seven major emitters (U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany, and U.K.), the U.S. is responsible for a global temperature increase of 0.15 C or 20% of observed warming.  China and Russia each account for about 8%; Brazil and India, about 7% each; and Germany and U.K., around 5% each.  Canada places 10th, after France and Indonesia, respectively.   The top positions of Brazil and Indonesia reflect their CO2 emissions from deforestation.

CC mapsThe study also displays country emissions in terms of their physical size and population.   Western Europe, the U.S., Japan, and India are thus hugely expanded, corresponding to the fact that their emissions exceed their geographic area.  In contrast, Russia, China and Brazil stay the same.  Looking at emissions this way can lead to the conclusion that Brazil and China emit in proportion with landmass expectations.  It can also lead to the surprising conclusion that Canada and Australia, which appear stick thin on this map, emit much less than they could.  (Surprising because Canada, with its tar sands oil, and Australia, the fourth largest exporter of coal, are regular recipients of CAN International’s Fossil of the Day award at international climate change negotiations.)

Dividing each country’s climate contribution by its population paints a much different picture, clearly pointing to the role of historical industrialization in creating climate change.   Industrialized countries occupy the top seven per-capita positions, with Canada falling in third place behind the U.K. and the United States.  In this ranking, China and India drop to the bottom of the list.