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The World’s Worst Polluters
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Nowadays, dismay and discontent over adequate environmental policy has become much more prevalent among societies around the world amid a plethora of evidence instantiated by scientists and regulatory bodies in support of climate change.
Among this consensus is the firm belief that anthropogenic activity (such as human production of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), and to a lesser extent natural activities (solar irradiance, volcanic eruptions, and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation), play a significant role in the post-industrial changes in climate that we observe and feel every day (USGCRP Climate Science Special Report, 2017).
Composition of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
According to IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), carbon dioxide accounts for 76 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (65 per cent from fossil fuels and industrial processes and 11 per cent from forestry and other land use) with the remainder being methane (16 per cent), nitrous oxide (6 per cent), and fluorinated gases (2 per cent).
For brevity, this article will focus on a discussion surrounding carbon dioxide emissions as it comprises the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The World’s Worst Polluters
This analysis uses rich country-level data on emission production and composition. The data for this analysis comes from research published by Our World In Data (2017). This research institute is based at The University of Oxford where the data is maintained by the Global Change Data Lab.
I will begin by extrapolating the emissions produced both in annual and per capita terms. Why per capita? Well, nominal parameters do not account for population size. Therefore, to adequately contrast and compare countries, population differentials need to be accounted for.
Total Annual Carbon Dioxide Emissions
To display the total annual carbon dioxide emissions produced across countries, I decided to create an interactive geospatial heat map, which can be seen below.
In annual terms, the most salient emitters of carbon dioxide are China who produced over 10 billion tonnes of emissions, The United States who produced over 5 billion tonnes, and India who produced over 2 billion tonnes.
The sheer volume of carbon dioxide produced in these countries is rather frightening, although not necessarily surprising—China, United States and India are the top three largest countries by population size (United Nations, 2019). Ultimately, these numbers are a function of population size and paint a relatively ambiguous picture of each respective country’s contribution to global warming.
Fun Fact: Cumulative Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Since 1751, The United States has contributed 394.38 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the planet; China has contributed 194.9 billion tonnes; India has contributed 46.47 billion tonnes; Australia has contributed 16.93 billion tonnes (Our World In Data, 2017).
Per Capita Carbon Dioxide Emissions
To display the per capita carbon dioxide emissions produced across countries, I also decided to use an interactive geospatial heat map, which can be seen below.
In per capita terms, the most salient emitters of carbon dioxide are Qatar who produced 47.83 tonnes of emissions, Curacao (38.94 tonnes), Trinidad and Tobago (30.05 tonnes), Kuwait (25.81 tonnes), and United Arab Emirates (25.79 tonnes).
What about the leaders of total annual carbon dioxide emissions?
In per capita terms, China produced 7.36 tonnes of emissions, India (1.36 tonnes), and The United States (16.44 tonnes).
So, what did we learn? Those countries that contribute the most to global warming are not those who produce carbon dioxide in larger volumes. Indeed, countries like China and India—some of the world’s most capacious emitters of annual emissions—do not produce as much carbon dioxide per person than what one would assume by looking at their total emissions (excluding the United States). Veritably, when it comes to individual contributions to global warming (per capita), China and India perform just as well as countries with affirmative environmental policies such as Norway, Finland and Denmark (use the interactive chart above to see how much these countries emit per capita).
Which countries top the list as the worst polluters on the planet? Well, they are not developing countries, rather they are service-based economies. These countries are Qatar, Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates.
In my next article, I plan to expand this discussion with a breakdown of the composition of carbon dioxide emissions by sector in service-based economies like Qatar. I also plan to provide an in-depth cross-country analysis regarding the production of other constituents of greenhouse gas emissions.
Let me know what you think! If you feel like you learned something new, share the article and spread knowledge with the rest of the world!