Representatives from 134 nations are gathered in Warsaw this week for the biannual exercise in dithering on the environment—otherwise known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference. But a glance at greenhouse gas emissions data collected by the Global Carbon Project, a non-profit research organization, shows that a summit of the Big Five polluters—China, the US, India, Russia and Japan—might be more effective at reaching a carbon accord. Those countries spewed 20,049 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2), into the atmosphere in 2012, or nearly 57 percent of total global emissions.
While developed nations are responsible for the bulk of historical greenhouse gas emissions, the balance of blame is shifting rapidly with China and India’s voracious appetite for coal to fuel their expanding economies. In 1990, for instance, industrial countries were responsible for 62 percent of global carbon emissions; in 2012, 57 percent of emissions originated in developing countries. China and India alone accounted for a third of worldwide carbon emissions in 2012. Emissions from China jumped 71 percent last year while India’s emissions rose 21 percent. US emissions, on the other hand, decreased 26 percent, according to the Global Carbon Project.
When you look at emissions per person, the nations with the highest spew tend to be those with small populations and carbon-intensive economies—we’re talking about you, Australia, which has among the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases in the developed world. With a quarter of Germany’s population, Australia, for instance, emits twice as much carbon per person thanks to its reliance on coal and status as one of the world’s largest fossil fuel exporters.