Countries Carbon Footprint

Posted by on dic 7, 2011 in Sustainability Mission | 0 comments

Countries Carbon Footprint

Poorer countries overtake rich world’s consumption carbon footprint

The financial crisis of 2009 saw the developing world’s carbon emissions from consumption shoot past the developed world’s years earlier than expected, new research shows

The carbon footprint from consumption in the developing world has overtaken that of the developed world, according to research published on Monday. The change happened years earlier than expected due to the fact that the developing world’s emissions were largely unaffected by the global financial crisis.

Emissions within the borders of developing countries outstripped those emitted in developed countries (as defined by the Kyoto Protocol’s ‘Annex B’) in around 2005. But the rich world still accounted for the majority of the carbon footprint of consumption due to the goods it imports from China and other developing economies.

Crowds outside an Apple store in Beijing in 2011; the developing world's carbon emissions from consumption have now overtaken the developed world's. Photograph: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Crowds outside an Apple store in Beijing in 2011; the developing world's carbon emissions from consumption have now overtaken the developed world's. Photograph: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Experts expected this situation to remain unchanged until around 2015, but the research in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that developing nations came to represent the majority of the carbon footprint of global consumption in around 2009, years earlier than expected.

The shift happened as a result of the markedly different way that emissions were affected by the global financial crisis in rich and poor countries. As the chart above shows, whereas the developed world’s emissions fell steeply in 2009 before bouncing back to a lower level in 2010, the developing world shot up throughout the period, apparently unaffected by the financial crisis.

Of course, this revelation doesn’t make individuals in the developing world more responsible for climate change than those in the developed world. On the contrary, the footprint per person is still far greater in the rich world, with its much smaller population, than in the highly populous developing world.

Furthermore, the rich world still has a larger historical footprint, having emitted around 73% of the CO2 since 1850, according to [figures from the WRI. Free log-in required]. Much of that CO2 is still in the air and driving current global warming.

Nonetheless, the fact that developing nations have come to represent the majority of the world’s carbon footprint touches on some of the key tensions in the UN global climate talks – in particular, the question of whether any deal needs to include binding emissions commitments from China and others large emerging economies.

The figures also highlights the increasing fragmentation of the traditional “developing world” category into different groups, including the poorest countries with minimal carbon emissions and the larger transitional economies with substantial carbon footprints.

The paper also examines how the recent financial turmoil compares to four previous economic crises in terms of impact on emissions.


How emissions have bounced back after economic crises. Source: Nature Climate Change

Worryingly, as the chart above shows, whereas previous recessions appear to have reduced the rate of emissions growth for decades to come, the current crisis has seen a full rebound to the recent rising trend within two years. In other words, thanks to strong growth in emerging economies, recent economic woes appear to have had almost zero impact on global carbon emissions.


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