What really caused the emission reduction of the developed countries

In a comment on the post “A 733% growth of something insignificant is still tiny” commenter Kevin Marshall (ManicBeanCounter) shared his thoughts on another graphics of the PBL on the trend of emission until 2012. He later wrote a post on his blog in which he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union has contributed the most to reduction in emissions. I didn’t had a look at that particular infographic yet and was a bit surprised by this statement.

I ended up counting all the increases and decreases per country and it came to this:

Developed countries Developing countries
Australia 158 Brazil 240
Canada 111 China 7,356
France -20 India 1,308
Germany -214 Indonesia 335
Italy -40 Iran 201
Japan 161 Mexico 177
The Netherlands 3 Other non Annex I 667
Other Annex I -128 Saudi Arabia 292
Other Annex II 23 Singapore/Malaysia 169
Other EU27 -281 South Africa 62
Poland 10 South Korea 382
Russian Federation -666 Taiwan 151
Spain 57 Thailand 171
United Kingdom -103    
Ukraine -446    
US 205    
Total -1,170 Total 11,511

Several things stand out. All the developing countries increased their emissions from 1990 until 2012. No surprise here. On the other side, half of the developed countries had an increase in emissions and half a decrease. That was a bit of a surprise, in a way I expected more decreases in the developed countries.

Another thing that stands out is the difference between the developed countries and the developing countries. A reduction of 1,170 Mtonne against an increase of 11,511 Mtonne. That is huge. A gain that is dwarfed by a huge increase. Also, the developing countries are not done yet. On the contrary, there are even others that are longing for more energy.

And yes, it is indeed true that the emission reduction former Soviet Union was the main reason of the reduction of the developed countries. If we add the emission reduction from the Russian Federation (666 Mtonne) and the Ukraine (446 Mtonne), then we get 1,112 Mtonne. Which is 95% of the emission reduction of all the developed countries together!

This massive reduction could not have much to do with the growth of renewable energy. The share of renewable energy in both countries is almost non existing and particularly the Russian Federation has still huge reserves of fossil fuels. More, the emissions in the Russian Federation in fact started increasing back at the end of the 1990s.

Why then the reduction of the emissions? If you look at the emissions since 1970, we see a sharp decrease starting in 1991. So indeed, the emission reduction is very likely to be caused by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On the other side, this means of course that the reduction of the other developed countries is really tiny: 58 Mtonne less in 2012 compared to the 1990. I didn’t really expected that. If we then know that some of the production of the developed countries just moved to the developing countries (therefor reducing emissions in the developed countries), then that reduction was really, really tiny and there maybe even wasn’t an emission reduction after all.

It was very likely the post-Soviet industrial meltdown that was responsible for almost all of the progress in reducing carbon emissions that the developed countries are able to claim. It is quite ironic that those countries that contributed by far the most to emission reduction are now being criticized heavily for having hardly any official climate strategy. It should embarrass those countries that took key steps in slowing climate change with renewable energy and carbon taxation, yet just barely reduced their emissions themselves.


2 thoughts on “What really caused the emission reduction of the developed countries

  1. manicbeancounter

    Thanks for following up on my post.
    There are three elements that will help with understanding the emissions figures.
    First is that emissions are very closely related to economic growth. This works both ways. China and India have had high emissions growth in the last 20-30 years due to high economic growth. With the fall of Communism many former communist countries experienced economic collapse. In Russia it was so severe that even life expectancy fell.
    The second is that communism was extremely energy inefficient. As a result, countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary still have only half the emissions of the peak at the end of the 1980s, despite being very much richer.
    The third is that other factors that can explain small reductions in emissions in many of the rich countries. A very important factor was pointed out by Graham Stringer MP in a parliamentary debate last week. Richer countries like Britain now import emissions embedded in goods. A sign of becoming an advanced economy is that industry is lot to the poorer economies. For instance, Britain once led the world in shipbuilding. Post WW2, this was lost to Japan. They in turn lost out to South Korea, who are now losing out to China. That implies energy consumption (and hence emissions) may appear to be falling when it is in fact they are rising. A true Green would see no problem in this – simply cut consumption. But investigation of the impacts of cutting consumption is something the Greens do not care to think about.

    Total Debate http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-11-25a.195.0&s=climate#g220.0
    Graham Stringer http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-11-25a.211.0
    Also at http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2014/11/26/to-frack-or-not-to-frack.html



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