Deconstructing Carbon before UN Climate Summit

Global Footprint Network - 09/15/2014 05:00 PM

Charged up by activists mobilizing for the UN Climate Summit in New York next week, we delved into our carbon Footprint data to see if we could shed light on the very intractable debates swirling around nations’ responsibilities for reducing emissions.  In the first graph below, our intrepid research analyst David Zimmerman found while EU countries toot their horns about declining emissions (as represented by the blue line below), the picture is not so simple.  

Here’s what David discovered after creating an index starting at 1993: EU emissions are actually increasing (except for a 2009 recession dip) when you account for all emissions resulting from consumption by EU residents (as shown in the red line). The measurement includes goods produced outside the EU but ultimately consumed inside its borders, and excludes goods produced within the EU that are consumed outside its borders.

EU Emissions

In a second graphic, David compared carbon emissions within a nation’s borders (domestic carbon emissions) to carbon emissions embodied in national consumption, which includes carbon associated with the production of goods outside the nation that were ultimately consumed inside the nation’s borders.

Nations Emissions

Not surprisingly, domestic emissions in countries like the US, the UK, and Switzerland were actually lower than the overall carbon emissions globally associated with the products their citizens consume –because they have large Ecological Footprints and consume many goods produced beyond their borders. 

As these graphics show, pointing fingers is no simple matter.  Rather, it’s in each nation’s self-interest to establish policies to reduce its citizens’ carbon and Ecological Footprints. The alternative is more political, economic, and climate instability and uncertainty.

That’s why Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel is supporting two initiatives related to the UN Climate Summit in New York. Dr. Wackernagel is a founding signatory to a letter asking world leaders to take urgent action on climate change to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade. You, too, can add your voice here: unsdsn.org/climate-letter.

Dr. Wackernagel also has joined a coalition of countries, companies, NGOs and indigenous peoples organizations in endorsing the New York Declaration of Forests, which calls for halving the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end forest loss by 2030.


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