53% of Global Carbon Emissions Come From the Developing World: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

By Mat McDermott
Oct. 27, 2008, 11:28 a.m.

carbon emissions shift image

image: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center

It's no secret that even though we've made strides in raising awareness (if not increasing action enough...) about global warming, carbon emissions just keep on rising. You probably also saw that earlier in the year China became the world's number one greenhouse gas emitter. What we can now report—thanks to new research done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory—is that not only are global carbon emissions rising, the source of those emissions is shifting towards Asia. That may be intuitive to some readers, but this is what ORNL has found:Carbon Emissions Up 38% Since 1992
From 1992 to 2007, carbon dioxide emissions from burning of fossil fuels and manufacturing cement (deforestation, though acknowledged as a major source of emissions, was not included in this assessment) have increased 38%.

In 1992 the world's major emitters of CO2 were, in order of emissions: the United States, China, Russia, Japan and India. Now, ORNL says, "The most recent estimates suggest that India passed Japan in 2002, China became the largest emitter in 2006, and India is poised to pass Russia to become the third largest emitter, probably this year."

Balance Titled in 2005
The interesting thing is how this has changed over the past decade and a half. Again, this may be intuitive and perhaps would have occurred with or without the Kyoto Protocol, but ORNL has quantified it:

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was drafted in 1992, the 38 countries considered developed at the time were responsible for 62% of global carbon emissions.

When the Kyoto Protocol was drafted in 1997 those same countries emitted 57% of emissions.

When the Protocol came into force in 2005 (and let's remember that the US refused to ratify it...) those 38 developed nations contributed just about 50% to the world's growing greenhouse gas problem.

In 2007, the balance had solidly shifted, with 47% of global carbon emissions coming from the developed world.

The Challenge Ahead: Truly Global Action
I'd say something similar to what ORNL has said this all means, so I'll just quote them:

While this national distribution of emissions is significant in the context of international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, its practical significance is less clear in a world linked by international commerce. [...] A recent study has estimated, for example, that a third of CO2 emissions from China in 2005 were due to production of goods for export. Current estimates of national CO2 emissions show simply the amount of CO2 emitted from within a country and do not take into consideration the impact of international trade in goods and services or the energy used in international travel and transport.

More: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
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