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Carbon dioxide emissions

Carbon dioxide emissions are the primary driver of global climate change. It’s widely recognized that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the world needs to urgently reduce emissions. But, how this responsibility is shared between regions, countries, and individuals has been an endless point of contention in international discussions.

How does carbon get into the atmosphere?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from two primary sources—natural and human activities. Natural sources include decomposition, ocean release and respiration. Human sources come from activities like cement production, deforestation as well as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Human sources of carbon dioxide emissions are much smaller than natural emissions but they have upset the natural balance that existed for many thousands of years before the influence of humans.

Electricity/Heat sector

Electricity and heat generation is the economic sector that produces the largest amount of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. This sector produced 41% of fossil fuel related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010.

Transportation sector

The transportation sector is the second largest source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Transporting goods and people around the world produced 22% of fossil fuel related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010

Industrial sector

The industrial sector is the third largest source of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. This sector produced 20% of fossil fuel related carbon dioxide emissions in 2010. The industrial sector consists of manufacturing, construction, mining, and agriculture.

42.84 percent of all naturally produced carbon dioxide emissions come from ocean-atmosphere exchange. Other important natural sources include plant and animal respiration (28.56%) as well as soil respiration and decomposition (28.56%). A minor amount is also created by volcanic eruptions (0.03%).

When aggregated by region we see that North America, Oceania, Europe, and Latin America have disproportionately high emissions relative to their population. North America is home to only five percent of the world population but emits nearly 18 percent of CO2 (almost four times as much). Asia and Africa are underrepresented in emissions. Asia is home to 60 percent of the population but emits just 49 percent; Africa has 16 percent of the population but emits just 4 percent of CO2. This is reflected in per capita emissions; the average North American is more than 17 times higher than the average African.

One common argument is that those countries which have added most to the CO2 in our atmosphere – contributing most to the problem today – should take on the greatest responsibility in tackling it.

Carbon emissions are rebounding strongly and are rising across the world’s 20 richest nations, according to a new study.

The Climate Transparency Report says that CO2 will go up by 4% across the G20 group this year, having dropped 6% in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The richest countries of the world are home to half of the world population, and emit 86 percent of CO2 emissions. We want global incomes and living standards — especially of those in the poorest half — to rise. To do so whilst limiting climate change, it’s clear that we must shrink the emissions of high-income lifestyles. Finding the compatible pathway for levelling this inequality is one of the greatest challenges of this century.

   It’s also true that reducing CO2 emissions is important to protect the living conditions of future generations. This perspective – that we must consider both the environmental and human welfare implications of emissions – is important if we are to build a future that is both sustainable and provides high standards of living for everyone. 

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