The carbon conundrum: Plotting emissions, as COP27 enters its final week

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Hot air

Today, the heads of the world's largest economies, Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, met in Bali at the G20 summit. The meeting comes at a low point in Sino-American relations, and halfway through COP27 — the UN conference on climate change.

Although the environment likely only occupied a small part of the conversation, the US-China relationship is vital to the global climate effort. In a speech on Friday, Biden urged other nations to ‘step up’ their efforts, pointing to the $370bn the US is spending on clean energy.

Big footprints

One key discussion point at COP27 has been climate reparations. As the true cost of a warming planet becomes clear, developing countries are increasingly pushing for compensation from nations that developed earlier.

Whilst the UK’s carbon emissions have dropped substantially in recent years, now sitting at their lowest level since the mid-1800s, that’s only a recent snapshot of the bigger picture. Throughout the industrial revolution and into the 20th century, the UK produced more carbon per-capita than any other nation. The American path has been similar, with the US responsible for more carbon emissions than any other country in history — though levels are way down compared to the 1970s.

Reparations or no reparations, the policy that likely matters most is bending the emissions trajectory of China. On a simple per-country measure, China is the world’s largest carbon contributor and has been for ~15 years. Even on a per-person basis, China is one the world’s largest emitters — and shows few signs of slowing down.

Go further: Explore this dataset for yourself from Our World In Data.

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