Despite size, US has fifth highest per capita CO2 emissions
Despite its huge population, the US has higher per capita emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) than for all but four of the world's countries.
A report from an independent population policy group says that Americans’ emissions are almost five times the global average, despite the fact that only China and India have larger populations. Only Luxembourg and three small oil-producing countries exceed US per capita carbon emissions.
Using the most recent US government and UN data, the report from Population Action International (PAI) indicates that in 1996 the US, with just 4.7% of the world’s population, contributed more than 22% of all global emissions of CO2.
In 1996, the US population stood at 269 million people, while average carbon emissions reached 5.4 tonnes per person, up from 5.3 tonnes in 1995. And, says PAI, US per capita carbon emissions continued to grow – against a backdrop of rising population – at least until the end of 1998.
The four countries with higher emissions than the US are Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Luxembourg. “Three of the four are oil-producing nations with very small populations, so emissions per capita are very high,” a PAI spokesperson told edie. “We are less sure for the reasons behind Luxembourg’s high per capita emissions, but it is very wealthy – presumably lots of cars relative to people – and also has a small population.”
In contrast to the US, India – with a 1996 population of 950 million – has per capita carbon emissions of 0.29 tonnes. China – with a 1996 population of 1.2 billion – has per capita emissions of 0.74 tonnes.
PAI says one fifth of the world’s population is responsible for 62% of carbon emissions while another fifth contributes just two percent. The high-emitting fifth live mostly in the US and other industrialised countries, but also in such developing countries as South Africa and Libya. The low-emitting fifth of the population live in such least-developed countries as Somalia, Nepal and Haiti.
Global per capita emissions have fluctuated up and down within a narrow range since 1970, says PAI, but the world’s population has risen by more than 60% since then, helping to fuel a comparable increase in CO2 emissions.
Global average per capita emissions of CO2 reached 1.1 tonnes of carbon in 1996. Together, the 5.7 billion people on the planet that year released 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere.
However, hopes were raised last year that global emissions could begin to moderate over time. Figures show that despite an expansion in the world economy, global CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels declined in 1998, falling 0.5% to 6.3 billion tonnes. Experts believe this marks an accelerated ‘de-linking’ of economic expansion from carbon emissions (see related story).
The recent slowing of world population growth also offers hope that increases in global emissions will decline, says PAI. The world’s population stands at just over 6 billion people, up from 5 billion in 1987. The world’s population is expected to continue to grow by roughly 80 million people annually for the next few years.
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