COP26: visualize the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by country since 1850

By Gary Dagorn

Posted today at 14:31

The objective of the 26e Conference of the Parties (COP26), which is taking place in Glasgow, is to limit the warming of the Earth’s climate to 1.5 ° C. To achieve this, there is little room left. Indeed, according to data from Carbon Brief, a media specializing in scientific analyzes of climate change, Past human activities have already produced 86% of the maximum cumulative carbon dioxide emissions that would make this goal reasonably possible.

The graph below shows the cumulative emissions since 1850 by the thirteen most emitting nations on the planet, emissions that represent two-thirds of the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Historical CO emitters2

Cumulative territorial CO emissions2 since 1850 (in millions of tonnes) due to the combustion of fossil fuels and the change in land use.

Inequalities between territories are extreme: the United States alone represent 20.3% of territorial emissions since 1850, followed by China (11.4%) and Russia (6.9%). If we add Brazil, Indonesia and Germany, we arrive at 50.7% of cumulative emissions.

The data includes emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, but also those related to land and forest use change, which destroy carbon dioxide reservoirs. These emissions represent almost a third of the CO2 rejected by human societies over time. This is the reason why the largest transmitters of the XIXe century are geographically large countries that developed agriculture and deforestation practices, which contributed more than fossil fuels to global emissions until 1950. This is particularly true for Brazil and Indonesia, both countries where agricultural practices and deforestation account for more than 85% of emissions.

The post-World War II era was a turning point: emissions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) became the majority and grew at an extremely sustained rate since 1950.

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Be careful, however, these figures represent territorial emissions: we count CO emissions2 in the place where they geographically occurred, which does not take into account globalization and imports. This is the case in China and other countries in Southeast Asia, where certain industries have established themselves to produce consumer goods for Europe and North America. If we affect CO emissions2 due to the production and transport of these goods to final consumers, Chinese emissions fall by about 9%, while those attributed to the United States increase by 1.4%, and those assigned to the main European nations of the United States. ‘West increases from 5% to 15%.

The data in this article does not take demographics into account. First, because it varies from country to country, and because it has changed a lot since 1850, which makes it difficult to calculate an accumulation. Relating cumulative emissions since 1850 to a population at a time T leads to a methodological bias.

Past emissions are calculated by estimating, from multiple historical sources, the quantities of coal, oil or gas extracted, traded and burned each year. Emissions of other greenhouse gases are not included, as they do not persist for long in the atmosphere, unlike CO2, their analysis would therefore not be relevant over a long period. In addition, their impact on the climate is approximately offset by the cooling effect of aerosols of human origin.

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COP26: visualize the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions by country since 1850