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Global CO2 emissions in the last 150 years

In the last decades, much attention has been given to global warming and the need for CO2 emissions reduction by society and companies.

This is related and affects also the way in which global supply chains are managed. For instance, lead firms (usually located in developed countries) push suppliers (both in developed and developing countries) to adopt more environmentally friendly technologies, enabling them to reduce CO2 emissions.

In the same time, governments negotiate on targets (take, for instance, the Kyoto protocol), define new regulations and can in turn put pressure on the companies to shift to the adoption of greener technologies.

When discussing these topics, however, we often miss the big picture. What does the long term trend look like? What has actually been done by developed and developing economies? Gapminder (www.gapminder.org ) has developed a nice tool for representation of World Bank data (including CO2 emission) that can help us.

So, let’s create a graph where every dot represents a country. The size of the dot represents the total CO2 emissions. Basically, CO2 emissions depend on the number of people (horizontal axis) and the CO2 emissions per person (vertical axis – a measure of individual consumption). Finally, let’s focus on four countries: Germany, Untied States, India and China, and observe the evolution from 1860 to 2008.

We can identify 5 periods:

  • 1860-1900: For the first forty years we have data only for Germany and United States. They start with the same population (around 35 million). Over time, the population of the United States doubles while the CO2 emissions per person in both the United States and Germany increases of ten times in relation with the Second Industrial Revolution.
  • 1900-1928: India and China appear on the picture. They already have a much larger and faster growing population with very low and stable emissions per capita. In this period, the First World War takes place, but the effect on the emissions of Germany and United States is limited. Interestingly enough, the United States are able to further increase their consumption (that is, emissions) faster than Germany.
  • 1929-1960: the Great Depression in 1929 causes a significant decrease in the United States’ emissions, while the Second World War causes a huge decrease of German emissions. In India and China, the population continues to grow but not the emissions per capita.
  • 1960-1990: Germany and the United States recover fast from the crises and maintain a relatively stable situation in terms of emissions (that is, consumptions) and population. In India and China, the population continues to increase with limited increase in the emissions.
  • 1990-2008: the United States remain stable, while Germany reduces its emissions per capita. In 2008, in Germany we witness about half of the Americans’ emissions per capita. However, these are small changes compared to those of India and China. In China, the population growth slows down, but the emissions per capita start increasing. It seems that China is now moving vertically, as Germany or the United States did in the 1860s. The problem is (look at the size of the bubble) that China is already emitting as much as the United States. India is instead still on a fast growth population route, so its vertical movement will probably arrive later.

You can also find the original plot at: www.bit.ly/xhWizC

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