In February Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, said that curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of efforts to combat global warming, and that couples who had more than two children were irresponsible. This idea – that our planet is heating up as a result of people in developing countries breeding too much – seems to be gaining more adherents amongst the Western intelligentsia.
But what is the evidence for it?
Wikipedia carries a list of countries ranked by carbon dioxide emissions per country. All data were calculated by the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), mostly based on data collected from country agencies by the United Nations Statistics Division. Countries are ranked by their metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
In total the world emitted 28,431,741 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006. The top six contributors to this were China (21.5%), US (20.2%), EU (13.8%), Russia (5.5%), India (5.3%) and Japan (4.6%), which together made up 70.9% of the total.
Of the top 20 countries (which together make up 80.6% of all emissions), only four (China, Brazil, Indonesia and India) were developing countries – but these countries all have huge populations and on the carbon dioxide emissions per capita list they were ranked 96, 123,134 and139 respectively. Together they account for 43% of the world’s population but only make up 29% of the carbon emissions. By contrast the US, Germany and Japan account for 7.5% of the world’s population but 27.6% of the carbon emissions. In other words their carbon emissions per capita are almost six times higher.
What does this tell us? That regardless of what you believe about the importance of global warning those countries which are amongst the biggest contributors are not those in the developing world with rapidly growing populations but those in the developed world with relatively static populations.
Carbon footprint is much more about consumption per capita than about population.