New Insight on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Consumption

You probably know by now that the emission of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change. As countries discuss and debate how to curb the global problem, there has been a lot of focus on the amount of CO2 directly emitted by each country. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the correlation between emissions and the consumption of goods and services in each country, leading us to ask: Who is really responsible for China’s large CO2 emissions?

In a recent report in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists Steven J. Davis and Ken Caldeira examined this emission-consumption connection, with interesting results.

China provides a great example. Even though the country is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, between one-fourth and one-third of Chinese emissions were in the production of exports which mainly ended up in the United States and Western Europe. In short, a lot of Asia’s emissions result from goods that are consumed by developed countries – a concept well-understood by economists, but maybe not by the general public looking at China’s huge environmental footprint.

Check out the map below to learn more about emissions and consumption trends. The emissions flow from net exporting countries are tinted blue and purple, while net importing countries are in red and orange.


Michael Totten is the chief advisor for climate and water in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business.

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