Carbon emissions per person, by country

Looking at a country’s total carbon emissions alone doesn’t tell the full story of the country’s contribution to global warming

Roll over the lines to get the data.

Looking at a country’s total carbon emissions doesn’t tell the full story of a country’s contribution to global warming.

China, for example, is the world “leader” in total emissions (6018m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) since it overtook the US (5903) in 2007. But all that really tells you is that China is a fast-developing country with a lot of people.

A more useful measurement is carbon emissions per capita (person). Under that measurement, the average American is responsible for 19.8 tonnes per person, and the average Chinese citizen clocks in at 4.6 tonnes.

Examining CO2 per capita around the world also shows us the gulf between the developed world’s responsibility for climate change and that of the developing world. While Australia is on 20.6 tonnes per person (partly because of its reliance on CO2-intensive coal) and the UK is half that at 9.7 (explained in part by relatively CO2-light gas power stations), India is on a mere 1.2. Poorer African nations such as Kenya are on an order magnitude less again – the average Kenyan has a footprint of just 0.3 tonnes (a figure that’s likely to drop even lower with the country’s surge in wind power).

These differences – along with countries’ historical contributions to global warming – are a crucial part of climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December. Even the former UK deputy prime minister John Prescott recently said that per capita emissions are the fairest way of thrashing out a deal in Copenhagen. Guardian readers believe it’s fairer too.

DATA: CO2 emissions per person, per country

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