Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil and biomass fuels play a key role in the greenhouse effect which affects climate change. At present, the OECD countries account for 54% of CO2 emissions worldwide. Since 1990, these emissions have increased by an average of 9% across the area as a whole, with different trends in each region: in North America, the rise was 12%, whereas in Asia-Pacific countries the rate varied from 10% in Japan to 81% in Korea. Emissions in Europe remained stable over the period.
The various countries’ contributions to the greenhouse effect, and the intensity of their emissions, vary widely, as the chart shows. This intensity, or emissions per unit of GDP, reflects the linkage, or non-linkage, of economic activity and the emissions generated by that activity. Put simply, a country with a low intensity of emissions pollutes less to produce 100 dollars of national income than a country with a high intensity does to produce the same 100 dollars. But this does not necessarily mean that a low-intensity country does not emit a great deal of pollutants. Intensity per unit of GDP depends on a number of different factors: the level and structure of economic activity; the structure of industry; the energy efficiency of production processes in the various branches of activity, and so forth.
The ranking of emissions per capita is a closer reflection of total emissions. It also serves as a reminder (albeit a rough one) that each consumer is indirectly responsible for the emission of a certain quantity of CO2.
©OECD Observer No 220, April 2000