Crawl Across the Ocean

Saturday, February 03, 2007

CO2 Emissions in Perspective

Here's a chart1 (click to enlarge) for those who argue Canada shouldn't take action unless China and India do.

Note: Higher bar does not equal moral high ground.

And another chart for those worried about the dramatic increase in Chinese emissions...

Those who argue that it would destroy Canada's economy to reduce our emissions should consider that we emit over 3x per capita what Switzerland does - with Switzerland being one of the world's wealthiest countries. Not to say that we should be able to match the Swiss economy, which has less emphasis on energy intensive resource extraction than ours, but it does show the potential for achieving prosperity with much lower GHG emissions. In case you're wondering, Swiss power generation is a mix of hydro and nuclear.

1Chart sourced from this Wikipedia chart listing all the countries with their C02 emissions over time.


  • I'll take the bait.

    (2006 population)
    Canada's population - 33M
    India's population - 1123M (34x)
    China's population - 1316M (40x)
    USA's population - 301M (9x)

    Multiply the numbers with the per-capita results, assuming that the numbers you referred to are correct (I know you pulled them from Wiki, but I have difficulty believing some numbers from the 'developing' world):

    Country - population * CO2/capita = total CO2 in 2003
    Canada - 33 * 17.9 = 591
    China - 1316 * 3.2 = 4211
    India - 1123 * 1.19 = 1336
    USA - 301 * 19.8 = 5959

    Canad's share, not including the USA = 9.6%
    Canada's share, including the USA = 4.9%

    GHG increases from 1990 to 2003:
    Canada - 2.9/capita = 95.7
    China - 1.1/capita = 1447.6
    India - 0.39/capita = 438
    USA - 0.9/capita = 271

    Canada's share in GHG growth, 1990 to 2003, not including the USA: 4.8%
    Canada's share in GHG growth, 1990 to 2003, including the USA: 4.3%

    Do we matter? With projected growth in GHG emissions from China and India increasing after 2003, even if we pulled the holy miracle of getting our GHG emissions down to zero - it won't make a difference at all.

    As for Switzerland, a couple significant differences:

    1. We have far greater land area than they do (even when you "chop off" the country north of 52 degrees)
    2. Switzerland doesn't have Fort McMurray and area, which has been the primary contributor to GHG emissions. The energy industry has been about 80% of the increase in Canada, at least from 1990 to 2001.

    There is no way we can match that without saying that we're just giving up on extracting energy.

    We can likely do things more efficiently than we do now; but in the context of what's happening around us it's not going to make any difference at all.

    By Blogger Sacha, at 8:42 PM  

  • Re: Switzerland, keep in mind the huge gap that existed back in 1990 before the tar sands had been touched.

    I'm not sure what difference land area makes. Empty land doesn't emit C02 (not that that would be included in these measurements, anyway). Sweden also has very low CO2 output if you want an example of a country with a similar land/population distribution as Canada.

    With regards to the argument that any small subset of a population is free to act however they like because they are only a small subset and thus have a small percentage impact on the whole group, or that the decision of a group whether to act or not varies depending on the nature of the subdivisions in that group, I'm not really sure how to explain it any clearer than I have already tried many times on this blog.

    In the meantime I assume that you vote and don't litter, etc., etc., so I'm not sure how you reconcile these positions with your belief in the irrelevancy of behavior when one is a member of a large group.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:16 PM  

  • If you are bailing the boat with a pail and I am filling it with a firehose even you might be inclined to give up.
    But we should start bailing anyway and see what happens.
    Initiatives directed at increased energy efficiency and alternate energy sources will probably have a life of their own.
    Land area relates to travel distance and therefore emissions generated in transportation.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:32 PM  

  • Sacha :I have difficulty believing some numbers from the 'developing' world

    Granted, but these numbers were gathered by the US Dept of Energy, who are presumably not in the business of skewing the stats to make China and India look good.

    Declan : This is so great.
    I hope you don't mind if I "borrow" it. I was making one of my own when I came across yours which is so much better.

    By Blogger Alison, at 2:11 PM  

  • Where should the GHG emissions for exported oilsands products be charged?

    One easy step is to ban air conditioning. Doubtless Indians and Chinese do not make as much use of it, and many of them live in much warmer and humid climes.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:26 PM  

  • "If you are bailing the boat with a pail and I am filling it with a firehose even you might be inclined to give up."

    A good metaphor, but it neglects the fact that the 'you' filling the boat with the firehose is really billions of people putting in thimblefuls each, with those thimblefuls taking them in little steps from grinding poverty towards the affluence that I already enjoy.

    "Land area relates to travel distance and therefore emissions generated in transportation."

    Definitely, I'm just not sure how big a factor this is in the overall emissions differences between countries. Probably one could try to isolate that factor with a regression (accounting for GDP/capita, and energy sources) to see the impact.

    Alison: Borrow away!

    Anon: "Where should the GHG emissions for exported oilsands products be charged?"

    A good question, not easy to answer. Logically, the consumer should pay but in practice, this is difficult to enforce.

    Along the same lines, who should be responsible for the emissions of immigrants - the country they came to or the country they came from?

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:20 PM  

  • But you will still just be making a thimbolic gesture.
    My attempt at humour.
    I think that the science behind the current global warming theory is valid complete with some known unknowns if you will.
    My favorite scenario in the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios
    is the A1 storyline and scenario family

    "A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population
    that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies.
    Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased cultural and social
    interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family
    develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The
    three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources
    (A1T), or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying too heavily on one particular
    energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use

    You can find a more detailed description at the IPCC website. note that the six scenario were generated from the last summary report but used again in the latest Summary for Policymakers.
    When I am thinking positively the A1B scenario seems possible.
    It yields a 2.8 degree C increase in global temperature and a .21 to .48 meter increase in sea level by the end of the century.

    I have been trying to rouse some interest in the actual Summary for Policymakers report in the blog world without much success. It seems as if everyone just wants to stick to hearsay.

    The six scenarios that have been proposed and modeled are meant to be guidelines for the movers and shakers. They present some pretty diverse ways of dealing with the situation and I think that it is important to sort out which approach we should take.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:58 PM  

  • You make a good point Doug. I've kind of been assuming that people would read the report, but that's probably not a good assumption. Maybe I'll do a post on it.

    Personally, I think the different scenarios are a bit too abstract to be much of a guide for action.

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:27 PM  

  • Thanks declan

    Thinking about global warming is an abstract pursuit for me as the real consequences will not occur in my lifetime. I know that you want to get going on this but unless there is some as yet uncalculated factor we are going to have global warming no matter what we do. It is just a matter of degree(s) (dumb humour again)
    No one is talking about how we will deal with the effects that are forecast in the report just how to try and avoid them. There will be regional changes that will specifically effect the northern hemishere with Canada situated in the area of greatest change. Globally the forecast is for longer droughts and bigger storms with heavier winds and rainfall and the four horsemen will be on the ascendant with another net gain in human misery.
    I think it is important to know where you want to get to before you start out on the journey. That is why I think there is a need to think "abstractly" if you want to call it that
    My least favorite scenario for instance is the B1 scenario even though it has the best modeled outcome. If you read the detailed version it sounds like a stepping stone on the path to a new world order with a non elected body like the UN running the planet. It is just my slant on it but I don't like the thought of something like that holding the reins of our economy.
    Our elected leaders can screw it up quite well on their own but at least I have some sort of a say in the matter.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:54 PM  

  • P S
    The Kyoto Protocol is to my way of thinking an example of a B1 approach even though the SPM report states
    "The SRES scenarios do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that
    explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the emissions
    targets of the Kyoto Protocol."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:06 PM  

  • I like the puns, keep 'em coming.

    On the topic of mitigating the impacts, don't confuse less media coverage with nobody thinking. This CBoC report, for example, I suspect has been widely read within the related parts of the civil service in Ottawa. Although I imagine, you were thinking along more far-reaching lines, than just raising the clearance on ocean bridges.

    As for the scenarios, I guess I'm not sure what the point is. It's hard enough to get a carbon tax implemented, never mind fundamentally altering the future course of world politics. If there are reasons to favour one scenario over the other, it isn't for the differences in emission growth between them - who really knows what those would be anyway (aside from the obvious - more people, more emissions, more fossil fuel use, more emissions, more material intensive economy, more emissions).

    For instance, why does decentralization go together with higher population growth (and vice-versa) in all scenarios?

    I mean, the topic of whether we want a centralized world or a decentralized one is an interesting topic, I just don't see a strong connection to the topic of global warming.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:32 PM  

  • Thanks again. I enjoyed your views including your latest post.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:15 PM  

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