US tops global carbon footprint league table – UK comes 10th

by Published Mon 22 Jun 2009 20:55
World's first ranking of nations' carbon footprints
World's first ranking of nations' carbon footprints

The first-ever comparison of the carbon footprints of different countries using a single model has been created by Norwegian scientists.

The United States was found to top the carbon footprint rankings with annual emissions per capita of an estimated 29 tonnes.

Australia and Canada came a distant second and third with estimated emissions per head of populations of 21 and 20 tonnes respectively.

As expected, the comparison shows that the higher a country’s per capita consumption expenditures are, the bigger its carbon footprint.

The national average per capita footprints varied from 1 tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents per year in African countries such as Malawi and Mozambique, to the US's 29 tonnes per year.

The United Kingdom was ranked 10th with annual emissions of 15 tonnes per capita – the same amount as Denmark, Germany and Norway.

The rest of the top 10 was made up of Switzerland and Finland (18 tonnes per capita), the Netherlands and Belgium (17 tonnes) and Ireland and Cyprus (16 tonnes).

The oil-thirsty boom nations of China and India figure relatively low on the league table with annual emissions of 3.1 and 1.8 tonnes respectively per capita.

The list's bottom three countries were said to be Bangladesh and Mozambique both with an estimated annual carbon count per head of population of 1.1 tonnes and Malawi with 0.7 tonnes.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the Centre of International Climate and Environment Research - Oslo (CICERO) found that food and services are a bigger contributor to the carbon footprint in countries with lower incomes, while mobility and the consumption of manufactured goods result in the greatest greenhouse gas emissions in countries with higher expenditures.

One of the key aspects of the researchers’ work is that it assigns the global carbon footprint from imports to the country that imports the goods – not the country that manufactures the goods. This approach is especially critical because globalized production chains allow companies to outsource the manufacturing of carbon-intensive products, therefore hiding the real carbon costs of imported goods.

Their website,, allows users to check the importance of different consumption categories for each nation and details the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the final consumption of goods from 73 nations and 14 world regions. The baseline dataset is from 2001.

The general scientific consensus is that global per capita emission levels must drop to just 1 tonne per person by 2050 to limit global warming to 2 degrees C. However, the researchers’ analysis shows that only a few poor countries currently have emission levels this low. In fact, for most countries, the production of food alone accounts for 1 tonne per capita.

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