With heat waves, wildfires, intense storms, and other extreme weather events, the cracks of climate change have become indisputable and inevitable. Who or what is responsible for this?
This seems like a simple enough question, but like a lot of things about climate change, it gets more complicated the more you look at it. It turns out that there are several ways to divide the defect.
To illustrate this point, I recently borrowed some charts from a research note from investment firm Morgan Stanley (with permission). They help identify who is emitting now, who is emitting in the past, who is emitting less and more over time, and which fuels and activities are driving change. None of this data is original – it is all public – but keeping these charts in one place can help us wrap our minds around the many different ways that climate change is responsible for Can solve the questions.
What questions do we ask when we ask who is to blame for climate change?
If the question is which country currently emits the most greenhouse gas emissions, the answer is China.
If the question is which country or region emits the most greenhouse gases, the answer is… still China, but “other Asia” is rapidly (even as Europe declines) is coming.
If the question is that the people of the country emit the most greenhouse gases on a per capita basis, then Americans answer this by a very small margin. (Canada and Australia also have higher per capita emissions, as some Middle Eastern countries do, not on this chart.)
If the question is which region or country already accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then for a long time, Europe was the answer…
… But these days, according to our world there is a tie between North America and Asia in the data, with Europe in the third.
If the question is which individual country is responsible for the most emissions, it is nearly twice the US, its nearest rival, China.
Animation: countries with the largest cumulative CO2 emissions after 1750
Ranking as of early 2019:
1) US – 397GCOCO2
2) CN – 214Gt
3) FMR USSR – 180
4) DE – 90
5) UK – 77
6) JP – 5)
7) in – 51
8) FR – 37
9) CA – 32
10) PL – 27 pic.twitter.com/cKRNKO4O0b
– Carbon Brief (@carbonbreed) 23 April 2019
If the question is which country or region is moving fastest in the right direction, then the answer is Europe. (Look at China – is it a peak or a halt?)
If the question is what fuels contributed most to climate change, the answer is coal, in the 21st century, followed by oil and natural gas.
If the question is that the economic sector contributes the most greenhouse gases, then the answer is electricity and heat.
This chart of our world in the data makes it even more clear that globally, the increasing demand for electricity and heating is the main driver of emissions, with transportation taking second place.
(Note that in the US, the situation is somewhat different – transportation emissions are rising and electricity sector emissions are falling. Recently crossed lines.)
Story told by data
The story told by these charts is familiar to those who have followed climate change for some time. Fossil-fuel industrial development came to the European Union, then it came to North America, and as it was going on in China, the world discovered that, oops, this development is going to destabilize the atmosphere and possibly destroy the biosphere . What’s more, the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere means that humanity’s remaining carbon budget is dangerously low. The model of development with a proven record of success has been revealed as extremely dangerous if it continues in the past.
This is a crude deal for China, as well as India, Vietnam, and other countries, who are trying to raise the level of prosperity and comfort to their citizens in the West. At the same time, it is mostly emerging economies that face the greatest risks from climate change, so they simply have to change course at their own risk.
In the mess of this situation, the answer to the question of responsibility for climate change is always yes, and. Yes, North America and the European Union must accept their historical responsibility for emissions. They ate up most of the carbon budget, developing in a way that now limits the world’s billions of poor people. In exchange for this good fortune, they have an obligation to help the world’s emerging economies move to sustainable development and increase their resilience to climate losses.
And it is the responsibility of China, India and other developing nations to be on the seat of the climate driver in the coming century for better or worse conditions and more suffering in every kind of fossil-fuel development later in the century.
North America and the European Union have given the world some room (and some help) to raise their standard of living; The rest of the world owes it to itself to strive for material consumption and welfare from waste.
Finally, there is a conversation about responsibility where all climate conversations lead: the only hope to avoid catastrophic losses is the most decrobalizing every country is capable of, regardless of their history and rivals.
There must be rapid erosion of electricity to get rid of coal; There must be rapid electrification of heating and transport to get rid of oil and natural gas. Rich countries must mobilize to reduce the cost of clean energy technologies through research and large-scale deployment; Developing countries must work as hard as possible to substitute clean technologies when long-term industrial policy and infrastructure decisions are being made. And those with resources should help those with little preparation for the coming turbulent century.
Whatever the mistake, we either put all the chips to solve it or we are all victims.
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