Worst emission offenders

A decade ago, China usurped the throne as the world’s biggest emitter of CO2. But China also has 1.3 billion people, which means its emissions divided by the population is not that high. The graph attached to this post shows CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and industry divided by population size. Still, the Middle Kingdom has pulled ahead of both the European Union and the world average. Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United States have emissions per person more than twice that. The population size of the US means it also rates as the world’s second largest carbon emitter. As for Canada and Saudi Arabia, they have only about 30 million people, yet the enormous carbon footprint of their inhabitants mean the two countries are responsible for 1.3% and 1.5% of all global emissions each year. For comparison, Sub-Saharan Africa, with almost one billion people, emit less than one tonne each on an annual basis. It should go without saying that the industrialized countries have an enormous obligations to help poor countries develop without increasing their emissions.

This isn’t a representation of all the top emitters, but a cross-section pulling out some of the more important countries from top to bottom. Other notable carbon profligate countries include Australia and Russia, while the highest emissions per capita in the world actually belong to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar’s emission rate is staggering: nearly 40 tonnes of emissions per person per year. Fortunately, these countries are so small they are only worth about 1% of global emissions together.

Emissions by category

Where exactly do greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from? That’s what the graphic above tells us. And it shows that emissions do not necessarily come from the places we might think. Transportation, for example, is the most visible (and pungent) form of carbon pollution in the lives of most people today, so it stands to reason that it’s also responsible for a lot of emissions. Stinking gasoline and diesel fuelled cars and trucks clog our roads and pollute our cities, and oil companies have to shoulder much of the blame for the unfolding climate calamity. But on the global scale, it’s a surprisingly small share of total pollution — only 14% (a different post will look at the distribution in Canada, the US and perhaps the EU).

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Emissions up in 2017

After declining in 2016, CO2 emissions went back up in 2017. According to estimates from the Global Carbon Project, emissions increased by almost 600 million tonnes, ending up at 41.47 billion tonnes. Emissions had actually decreased in 2016 after flattening out over the last few years, bringing hope that we had finally reached peak carbon pollution, but it was not to be. Still, emissions have only edged up slightly in five years, so there is hope that the curve will finally start to bend downwards. Just as the curve had flattened mostly because of decreasing coal use in China, the Middle Kingdom was also responsible for the increase, with emissions going up by 3.5%, including 3% growth in coal emissions. China has promised to peak its emissions before 2030, but not quite yet it seems. Let’s hope they do it soon.

Source: The Global Carbon Budget 2017, Le Quéré et al., 2017, pp.33-34 (free download)

The Carbon Budget — Living Beyond Our Means

There are good reasons to calculate our carbon budget. The carbon pie shows how much CO2 we’ve got to play with, how much we’ve used and how fast we’re using it. This isn’t a license to pollute, but a warning about how much we have already polluted. As long as we didn’t precisely know how much carbon we could emit, it was easier for those with responsibility to run away from it or push it ahead of them. The carbon pie should be a visceral reminder of how urgent the problem has become and it should compel governments to reflect on what they all need to do to avoid overshooting. The small remaining carbon space no longer allows anyone to continue with business-as-usual.

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Commerce Court

Commerce Court

The most glorious ceiling in all of Toronto is — where else? — in a bank. Commerce Court was built in 1931 as the HQ for the Canadian Bank of Commerce, now CIBC.

The Canada 150 tulip

The Canada 150 tulip

For Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017, the government commissioned a new tulip. The red is meant to look like a maple leaf, and you can kinda see it.

Tipping points in the Arctic

When the summer melting season ended in 2007, the icecap floating in the ocean over the North Pole had shrunk to its smallest size ever recorded. According to satellite data, the remaining summer sea ice measured almost forty per cent less than the average for the period of 1979 to 2000. More than one-and-a-half million square kilometres that had been covered with ice the year before was open ocean. The event was a serious confirmation that had been suspected for a while in the scientific community: that the Earth may be prone to abrupt climate change and tipping points. The new science of non-linear change is challenging our notions of what climate change is and when it will occur—and it is utterly alarming.

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