A countries wealth in 2021 is a result of past carbon emissions – no great surprise

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Key Points
• The U.S. — by some distance — is responsible for the largest share of CO2 emissions from 1850 through to the present day, according to analysis published Tuesday by research group Carbon Brief.
• The research comes less than a month before the start of a critically important U.N. climate summit, known as COP26.
• It is yet another example of the immense pressure on heavily polluting countries to drastically and urgently reduce their emissions to meet the demands of the climate emergency.

A comprehensive analysis of the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted since the start of the industrial revolution shows which countries have the greatest historical responsibility for the climate crisis.

The U.S. — by some distance — is responsible for the largest share of CO2 emissions from 1850 through to the present day, according to analysis published Tuesday by research group Carbon Brief.

The U.S. was found to have released 509 gigatons of CO2 since 1850, representing some 20% of the global total. China was found to be a relatively distant second with 11%, followed by Russia (7%), Brazil (5%) and Indonesia (4%).

Germany and the U.K. accounted for 4% and 3% of the global total, respectively, although these historical emissions did not include overseas emissions under colonial rule.

The data from Carbon Brief includes, for the first time, emissions from the destruction of forests and other changes in land use alongside the burning of fossil fuels. This addition significantly alters the rankings for the top 10 when compared to data published in 2019.
It also highlights that the world has now blitzed through 85% of the CO2 budget that would give a 50% chance of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,
the more aspirational goal of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

Emissions by population shows clearly how Canada has been a high per capita emitter

One approach assesses a country’s climate emissions each year and divides it by the number of people living in the country at that time, which the report notes would implicitly assign responsibility for the past to those alive today. The second scenario takes a country’s per-capita emissions in each year and adds them up over time, giving equal weight to the populations of the past and the present day.

In the first example, Canada, the U.S. and Estonia, respectively, represent the top three countries for cumulative emissions from 1850 through to 2021. New Zealand, Canada and Australia make up the top three in the second approach, relating to cumulative per-capita emissions.

Cumulative emissions relative to population – the case of China and India
When accounting for the top 20 countries’ cumulative emissions relative to population size, several of the top 10 for cumulative emissions overall are notable in their absence, including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

These four nations account for 42% of the world’s population, the analysis says, but just 23% of cumulative emissions from 1850 to 2021.

All this adds and complicates the situation we face today. How can fair reductions be made in GHG’s?

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