climate change globalisation

Ten developing countries with falling CO2 emissions

In order to hold global warming to a safe temperature, global development needs to show two sustained trends. First, countries with high carbon emissions need to get them on a downward trajectory. And second, countries that are industrialising need to transition to cleaner forms of development and stop their emissions rising.

Britain is in that first category, and along with most of Europe, emissions have been falling – not fast enough, but going in the right direction. There are high income countries that aren’t doing enough, such as Japan and South Korea. Neither are Canada or Australia, so it can’t be characterised as an East vs West scenario. And since very few countries have policies that are compatible with 1.5 degrees of warming, it’s a matter of raising ambitions everywhere rather than assigning blame.

Britain’s media is inevitably focused on the Anglosphere, and that includes the environmental movement. We hear plenty about the first of those global trends and whether or not it is on track. There is very little on the second. You have to go looking for news of alternative development models, or middle income countries reaching a plateau in their emissions profiles. It’s less likely to turn up in the news anyway – it is only news if something happens. Emissions not rising isn’t news.

Since we hear less about it, commentators in the West could easily conclude that it is developing countries that need to get their act together to prevent runaway climate change. What’s the point of beating ourselves up about our emissions if other countries intend to let their emissions rise?

So here is something that I’ve not found anywhere else: a list of examples of developing or middle income countries where emissions have stopped rising. It doesn’t mean they’re doing enough or that they are on a sustainable path yet, but they are hopeful signals of that second vital trend. And since I’m trying something new here, consider what follows to be a work in progress.

Mexico – let’s start here, because in 2012 Mexico signed a commitment to a 50% cut in emissions by 2050 into law. It was the first climate law in a developing country, and three years later it introduced an energy transition law. It’s important to get these things into law so that they survive a change in government – and Mexico’s current regime is indeed less committed. Nevertheless, the country’s emissions appear to have turned a corner and a quick comparison with Brazil shows the difference.

Morrocco – the North African country is notable for being one of only two countries in the world whose current climate pledges are compatible with a 1.5 degree climate target. (The Gambia is the other one.)

Romania -It gets overlooked when its emissions are rolled in with the EU, but Romania has been quietly successful on climate change and it has halved its emissions over the last 30 years. The fall is emissions is partly due to the loss of its heavy industry in the post-USSR world, but it has also been a supporter of climate action and it was the first European country to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Again, a comparison to show that these things are not inevitable:

Mongolia – With half a billion dollars invested in renewable energy in recent years, Mongolia’s emissions have peaked and begun to decline. It’s a small country with specific circumstances, but it is a good example of how financing for climate adaptation has facilitated a measurable shift onto a cleaner development pathway.

Pakistan – [Update: Having looked into this one further, it’s very difficult to know how much of this effect is due to unrest, and a recent rise in emissions makes it a moot point anyway] one of the world’s hottest countries already, Pakistan is acutely vulnerable to climate change and this is not news to the government. Pakistan was one of the first countries to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals as national policy, and then to localise the MDGs throughout the country. It has a Ministry of Climate Change overseeing its climate action, including a major project to recover from its critically low 6% forest cover. The graph below runs to 2014 and doesn’t include the latest figures, but shows the overall leveling off of emissions, even in a context of major efforts to lift people out of poverty.

Jamaica – Through reforestation, renewable energy, fuel efficiency standards and much else besides, Jamaica’s emissions peaked in 2006 and are now declining. Jamaica is an active participant in climate coalitions of island states, and is one of 10 countries piloting sustainable shipping.

Cuba – Ten countries have so far enshrined a response to climate change in their national constitutions, and Cuba is among them. It is also a leader in climate adaptation and a leader on long term thinking: their adaptation strategy is a 100 year plan. Ecuador, which also has climate change in its constution, is yet to show an inflexion point in emissions in this comparison.

Colombia – deforestation has been a major issue in Colombia, and with parts of the Amazon under the control of rebel forces, it’s been hard to regulate it. Since the end of hostilities, the government has had more influence on illegal logging and the country put a serious dent in its emissions. As the third largest economy in South America, Colombia’s influence is not negligible – especially in encouraging its rogue neighbour to the south.

colombia

South Africa – as a major coal consumer, South Africa has not historically been a leader on climate change. Drought has exposed the country’s vulnerability and sharpened politician’s minds, and the country announced in 2019 that it would transition away from coal and towards renewable energy. After a peak in 2009, emissions are currently on a plateau and are expected to start falling between 2020 and 2025. There is no direct comparison within Africa, so I’m including another coal-powered nation with similar overall footprint – though consider that Australia has half as many people, many times the wealth and no excuses.

India? – This one comes with a question mark, but it’s too important not to mention it. This year India’s emissions fell for the first time in 40 years. The impact of the coronavirus is a big factor in that, so it would be wise not to read too much into it. However, Carbon Brief has all the details about other underlying factors that the bigger changes that are underway. Renewable energy is now cheaper than coal, and with the coal industry in crisis due to the pandemic, decarbonising India’s power sector may happen sooner than anticipated. This is a story to watch, and one with global implications.

The ten countries above aren’t an exhaustive list. I could have looked at Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where emissions are not rising. Neither is Indonesia, though I have left it out because it has such hugely variable annual emissions depending on peat fires and deforestation. I’ve left out Costa Rica because I’ve written about them before, and Venzuela because we can’t tease apart its sustainability ambitions with recent turmoil. I could have looked at Egypt, Chile, Uruguay, Bhutan and several small states and islands where emissions are no longer rising.

The point is that emissions are not universally rising in developing or middle income countries. There is naturally a lot of focus on the big players that aren’t doing their part, and obviously things need to be moving faster. But climate change is a global story, one that is unfolding over many decades, and there are lots of underreported stories within in.

14 comments

  1. Ten developing countries with falling CO2 emissions

    Not so. Of the nine developing countries you examine (Romania is not classified as a developing country), seven increased their emissions from 2015 to 2018 – by a total of 391 Mtons. Two decreased them – by a total of 4 Mtons.

    Of the nine developing countries you go on to mention, all (except Venezuela – a basket case) increased their emissions over the same period – by a total of 103 Mtons.

    Data here: https://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=booklet2019

    PS: Although Tuesday has come and gone, I’m still looking forward to your answer to my question here: https://earthbound.report/2020/06/01/book-review-the-future-we-choose/

    1. That’s a different dataset measuring different things over a different time frame – not a fair comparison. I’m using the World Bank data and you’ll have to take it on those terms. Whether I should have used the EDGAR data is a separate question.

      You are right that the title of the post doesn’t quite fit what I present, but that’s because I couldn’t settle on anything more useful. A more accurate title, as the copy makes quite clear, would be: ‘ten developing or middle income countries to watch because their emissions are falling, on a plateau, or possibly approaching a turning point – but certainly not rising in the way lazy generalisations of emerging economies regularly imply’. But that’s not very concise.

      And no, this is not a reply to your question. I already told you that I disagree with the premise of your question and am not going to answer it. This is a step back from it, examining your claim that outside of the majority white Western nations, countries don’t see climate change as a priority and are not reducing their emissions.

      1. A different dataset? Try this https://knoema.com/atlas. Go to any of the countries you identified, scroll down to ‘Environment – CO2 emissions’ and you’ll see a graph from 1970 to 2018. Examine the curve from 2000 to 2014 (as far as you go) and you’ll see it’s exactly the same as yours. Then look at the figures from 2015 to 2018. You’ll see that fifteen of the eighteen developing countries you mentioned have substantially increasing emissions. There’s no indication that the emissions of any of these fifteen countries ‘are falling, on a plateau, or possibly approaching a turning point‘.

        And that’s just those you selected. You need to get used to the reality that most developing countries are continuing to increase their emissions.

        1. Robin, there’s no point in throwing other datasets at me. I’ve used the one I’ve used, and if we were to look at other datasets, we would find other examples of countries with interesting emissions profiles that are more apparent than in the World Bank one. Look up Saudi Arabia in your atlas and see how it fits with your narrative.

          This is a broad point: you keep saying that countries outside the west are unconcerned and don’t think it’s a priority. I say that’s an unhelpful generalisation on both counts. Not everyone in ‘the west’ is taking it seriously. And not everyone outside the west is unconcerned.

          We’re at the mid-point of a decades-long global trend in peaking global emissions. Different countries are joining at different times and at different speeds. Concern in a developing country will not mean falling emissions straight away, because they are still developing. But it might mean slower rates than their neighbours, level emissions, or distinct steps down at key moments. We can see this when we compare longer term trends against countries’ immediate peers.

          Your generalisations aren’t helpful, and they obscure all sorts of interesting stories happening all over the world, in favour of an out of date and colonial view of ‘west vs the rest’.

          1. there’s no point in throwing other datasets at me

            Both the World Bank and Knoema datasets are based on the Edgar dataset. The problem with the World Bank set (at least the one you’re using) is that it’s out of date.

            Not everyone in ‘the west’ is taking it seriously. And not everyone outside the west is unconcerned.

            I agree. And have never said otherwise.

            We’re at the mid-point of a decades-long global trend in peaking global emissions.

            Are we? From 1982 to 2000 global emissions grew by 37%. From 2000 to 2018 by 46%. If we’re now at the mid-point of a trend and Ms Figueres for example is right (see below), we face utter disaster.

            Concern in a developing country will not mean falling emissions straight away, because they are still developing.

            And there’s the problem: if Ms Figueres’ is right, humanity has to cut its emissions by 50% within the next nine years – i.e. we all have to start cutting emissions now.

            … an out of date and colonial view of “west vs the rest”.

            The unfortunate ‘west vs. rest’ concept was not a western initiative – far from it. It came about because developing countries insisted on the bifurcation at Rio in 1992. EU and US negotiators have been trying to at least amend it ever since. But they’ve been repeatedly rebuffed – that’s why it’s still there in the Paris Agreement. Far from it being a ‘colonial’ view, I suspect there may be – and continues to be – an element in this of developing countries being tired of people of white European heritage telling them what they should be doing. Yes, that attitude may be out of date. But it’s understandable and it’s still with us.

            Your generalisations aren’t helpful.

            OK I’ll give you a few specifics. But not today.

      2. I disagree with the premise of your question…

        It seems you mean my statement that most countries outside the West are either unconcerned about the impact of GHGs on the climate or don’t regard the issue as a priority – focusing instead on other issues such as poverty eradication.

        But we’ve just seen that fifteen out of the eighteen countries you selected (i.e. most of them) are substantially increasing their emissions – hardly the action of countries that regard the matter as a priority. There are approximately another 130 non-Western countries. How many – and which – of these are cutting their emissions, on a plateau or possibly approaching a turning point?

          1. That is a great question that I would like to know the answer to.

            In fact, you can get a good view of the answer by going here: https://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=booklet2019. Put your finger on the 2010 column and scroll down comparing it with the figure in the 2018 column. You’ll see that most (not all) developing countries have increased their emissions in recent years – many by substantial percentages. You can do it easily in 20 minutes. Presumably you can find time for that.

          2. To make a start on this, I had a look at countries with initials ‘A’ and ‘B’. There are 26 developing countries in this category. 25 of these increased their emissions between 2010 and 2018. The one exception was Brunei.

            (It took me about 3 minutes.)

  2. Great, but it’s not that simple. Bear in mind that if you want things to be up to date, a raw 2010 to 2018 comparison might not capture a decline. If the decline is recent, it probably won’t have fallen back below 2010 levels. There are several countries where that would apply. Countries that are on a plateau often have quite variable annual reports as well, and just two numbers won’t necessarily indicate a trend. That’s why it’s helpful to be able to see a graph of emissions and not just raw numbers, and why I used Google’s tools.

    Ideally the data source captures land use and not just fossil fuel use, as some developing countries are reducing emissions by reducing deforestation.

    Having done a bit more digging for better sources, the Global Carbon Atlas is quite useful. http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions

    And Climate Watch from the WRI is perhaps my favourite so far. I may repeat the exercise with their data and come up with something better. https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions

    1. … if you want things to be up to date, a raw 2010 to 2018 comparison might not capture a decline. If the decline is recent, it probably won’t have fallen back below 2010 levels. … That’s why it’s helpful to be able to see a graph of emissions and not just raw numbers

      I completely agree. That’s why I like the Knoema ‘World Data Atlas’. It uses the same database as the World Bank and EDGAR and, like the latter, extends to 2018. It provides an easily accessible interactive graphical presentation of the emissions of each of the countries party to the UNFCCC. It incorporates a helpful comparison tool.

      So, using Knoema, let’s see how things stand. First, go to its home page (https://knoema.com/atlas) and click on the ‘World’ icon. Then scroll down to ‘ENVIRONMENT’ and click on ‘CO2 emissions’. You’ll get to this page: https://knoema.com/atlas/World/CO2-emissions. Click on the graph to use the interactive tool. You’ll see that, since 2010 (I think 8 years is about right to establish a trend), emissions have been rising strongly – although not as strongly as pre-2008. The total rise amounts to 4.0Gt.

      The next point of interest is the West’s performance during this period. That means going to the pages for each of the main Western countries. Obviously, I cannot demonstrate that here, but I’ll use the USA and the UK as examples. Following the procedure used above for the World, go to these pages: https://knoema.com/atlas/United-States-of-America/CO2-emissions and https://knoema.com/atlas/United-Kingdom/CO2-emissions. You’ll see that the US has been on a clear downward trend since 2010 – but with an uptick in 2018. Although I know from another source that it turned down again in 2019, that does illustrate your point about how annual reports vary. And the UK’s obviously on a sharply declining trend. To get a complete picture of the West it’s necessary to follow that procedure for all EU countries, Australia and Canada. BTW the latter is interesting: https://knoema.com/atlas/Canada/CO2-emissions. On a rising trend, but with a levelling off since 2014; again illustrating your point.

      You’ll have to take my word for it, but, overall, the West’s emissions have come down by 0.7Gt over the 8 year period (on a clearly declining trend). That means the RoW’s emissions have increased by 4.7Gt and are rising strongly. However, the two big ‘developed’ countries in this group are exceptions – see https://knoema.com/atlas/Russian-Federation/CO2-emissions and https://knoema.com/atlas/Japan/CO2-emissions. So yes, Russia’s emissions have increased since 2010 – but by very little and they’ve levelled off since 2012 (but with an uptick in 2018). And Japan has been on a sharp downturn since 2013; both illustrations of your point.

      So the developing world is the source of a 4.7Gt global increase since 2010. And simple (but numerous) checks show unsurprisingly that most developing countries are on a rising curve. There are however, as might be expected, a few interesting exceptions that illustrate your point. Have a look for example at Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Mexico. (I don’t think your system would allow me to post any more links – anyway this post is quite long enough!)

  3. Yes, all useful. I’m away next week but can do some more digging around this afterwards. I don’t disagree that emissions are generally trending gently downwards in the West, but the moment you look at it from a per capita basis it’s obvious that there’s no cause for congratulation or complacency. But that’s a slightly separate question.

    1. But that’s a slightly separate question.

      If the objective is to cut global emissions by 50% within the next nine years – which I understand many scientists advise is necessary – it’s more than slightly separate.

      But you might nonetheless note that thirty-four non-Western countries have greater per capita emissions than the EU. They include China, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan. Moreover these countries are the source of 49% of emissions – compared with the EU’s 9%.

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