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In the previous article, I discussed the relentless upward march of global carbon dioxide emissions. According to data from the 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the world reached a new all-time high for global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017.
Today, I want to discussion trends and relative contributions from the world’s most significant carbon dioxide emitters.
Since 1965, no country has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the United States. The 264 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the U.S. has emitted to the atmosphere represented 22.5% of global emissions during that time, and was well ahead of the cumulative 216 billion metric tons from the European Union (EU). In second place among countries was the 188 billion metric tons emitted by China.
But as China has industrialized — with a heavy reliance on coal-fired power — Chinese emissions have rocketed past both those of the U.S. and the EU:
China’s emissions passed those of the U.S. in 2005, and by 2012 had surpassed the combined contribution of both the U.S. and the EU. Should recent trends continue, China will be responsible for the most atmospheric carbon dioxide in less than 20 years.
China has lots of regional company, too. The Asia Pacific region is home to both China and India — the world’s two most populous countries and two of the largest carbon dioxide emitters. It is also home to other fast-growing and/or populous countries, like Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Japan. Over the past decade, this region’s carbon dioxide emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 3.1%, which was nearly triple the global average. As a result, Asia Pacific is now responsible for nearly 50% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Thus, Asia Pacific as a whole continues to drive global carbon dioxide emissions higher:
There are some positives in the data. Over the past decade, the U.S. has decreased annual carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 800 million tons. This is by far the most of any country in the world, and is primarily a result of shifting coal-fired power to natural gas and renewables. The EU has also made significant strides, reducing its annual carbon dioxide emissions by 681 million tons.
These reductions paled in comparison to China’s two billion ton per year increase in emissions, but China’s emissions have been relatively flat since 2013. This, combined with the decreases in the U.S. and EU, have helped slow the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions in the past decade versus the previous decade:
It is true that the U.S. has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country, and that U.S. per capita emissions are among the highest in the world. But it is also true that the U.S. won’t solve this problem alone (even if we weren’t dropping out of global climate treaties).
Regardless of the actions taken by developed countries, the primary driver of carbon dioxide emissions in coming decades will be areas of the world with huge populations, but with low, and growing per capita emissions. A small increase in those per capita emissions can result in a huge increase in overall emissions — amply demonstrated by Asia Pacific’s skyrocketing emissions.
Thus, the most pressing need in the world today is to ensure that countries can develop without a heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, because this is the reason for the status quo.
Robert Rapier is a chemical engineer in the energy industry. Robert has 25 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable energy industries, and holds several patents related to his work. He has worked in the areas of oil refining, oil production, synthetic fuels, biomass to energy, and alcohol production. He is author of Utility Forecaster at Investing Daily, and of the book Power Plays: Energy Options in the Age of Peak Oil. Robert has appeared on 60 Minutes, The History Channel, CNBC, Business News Network, CBC, and PBS, and his energy-themed articles have appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and The Economist.