The challenge facing the world's biggest polluters
The clock is ticking in the race to agree a new treaty to cut the emissions that cause global warming. Michael McCarthy names and shames the offenders who must mend their ways
Wednesday 11 March 2009
In three weeks' time in Bonn, the international community will begin the negotiations leading up to December's United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen, which, it is hoped, will produce a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. If the world is to check the march of global warming before it is too late, it is increasingly clear that this meeting must lead to agreement on worldwide cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas – emissions of which from industry, transport and deforestation are responsible for causing the atmosphere to overheat.
Here we present a unique table of the world's 20 biggest CO2 emitters, with details of their economies and populations, and more importantly, what steps they each are already taking – if any – to cut back their emissions. Some points stand out. China has now overtaken the United States as the world's biggest polluter; its carbon emissions have more than doubled in a decade, and with its recent growth rate of nearly 10 per cent, could do so again, depending on the length and depth of the world recession.
India, now the fourth biggest polluter, is also rapidly increasing its emissions, and is increasing its population of 1.15 billion people far faster than any other country in the table; soon its human numbers will be on a par with China's and its emissions following suit. But neither country has set an emissions reduction target since, as developing countries, they feel they should be allowed to continue growing to relieve poverty (India is vocal on this point). Also, as the supplementary table makes clear, if their emissions are treated on a per capita basis, India is the lowest emitter by far, and China is fourth from bottom, instead of top.
However, some developing countries are taking on emissions targets – Mexico and South Africa stand out – while Brazil has set up a programme to save the Amazon.
Among the developed countries, the member states of the European Union (including Britain) are taking the lead, with firm commitments to reduce CO2 in the medium term. Other high-emitting rich nations, such as Japan, Canada and Australia, have given themselves less taxing targets or have not yet set out their plans in detail. After eight years of inaction and obstructionism under President George Bush, the US, now the second biggest polluter, is back among the climate change coalition of the willing, and President Obama has set out the targets he would like to aim at. However, he may be held back in his ambition by Congress.
If we are to name any laggards, we should point to the oil-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are unhappy at the whole idea of cutting carbon and have done very little about it, and also to Russia (the third biggest polluter) and Ukraine, who similarly have shown little appetite for action.
If a workable deal is reached in Copenhagen it will have to involve the developed nations taking on new ambitious targets; but it will also have to mean the developing countries starting to cut back their own CO2, in return for large amounts of developed country aid. In essence, it will be a deal between the US and China, with the rest of the world following. But it is by no means certain that a deal can be put together. Look at our table and you will see just how different are the situations of the different countries in emissions, wealth and population. Bringing them all into a treaty that really means something will be a labour of Hercules – beginning in Bonn, in three weeks' time.
Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
The Eastern Cougar will be officially listed as extinct — almost 80 years after last sighting
Earth enters sixth extinction phase with many species – including our own – labelled 'the walking dead'
- 1 Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
- 2 Lisa Randolph-Gant: Queen Elsa cake maker says she will carry on baking and will not let people 'break her spirit'
- 3 Tube strike: This pedestrian-friendly map tells you the time it takes to walk between stations
- 4 Pamplona Running of the Bulls 2015: Three men gored and 10 hospitalised on first day of festival
- 5 Sarah Jessica Parker explains why she is not a feminist: 'It's not just about women now'
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy
£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...
£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...