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New Research Maps Countries' Contributions to Global Warming

Climate
New Research Maps Countries' Contributions to Global Warming

A new study aims to offer unique insights into countries’ historical responsibility for global warming, by translating their carbon emissions into a proportion of observed temperature rise.

How responsible different countries’ are for climate change to date has long been a contentious issue. Contributing differently to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, some countries are considered more to blame for warming than others.

Cartogram of national climate contributions (density-equalized map). Here, the geographic area of each country has been scaled such that the colored area is proportional to its climate contribution. The color scale shows the amount by which a country’s size is expanded or contracted relative to its original size. Credit: Matthews et al.

The study, by scientists from Concordia University in Canada and published in Environmental Research Letters, examined each country’s emissions between 1750 and 2005.

As well as carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning and land use change, they examined methane, nitrous oxide and sulphate aerosol emissions.

The researchers then looked at the relationship between these emissions and temperature rise—weighing each type of emission according to the lifetime of the temperature change it causes.

By working out how much each country has emitted, they were able to work out how much temperature rise it had caused.

Unsurprisingly the research showed how a small number of countries account for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions. Together, the U.S., China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany and the UK have been responsible for 63 percent of emissions.

Using the new method, the U.S.—which takes top place in terms of historical emissions and contributing more than double the emissions of second place holder China—is responsible for 0.15 degrees Celsius of warming. That’s close to 20 percent of the total temperature rise witnessed so far.

National contributions to historical climate warming, including CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land-use change, non-CO2. Credit: Matthews et al.

China and Russia come next in the rankings—responsible for around eight percent of emissions each—contributing around 0.06 degrees Celsius to global temperature rise, followed by Brazil and India, responsible for around seven percent of global emissions and 0.05 degrees Celsius temperature rise each.

Germany and the UK come in sixth and seventh—responsible for around five percent of emissions and 0.03 degree Celsius of temperature rise.

The researchers experimented with various methods of illustrating the difference between countries’ emissions.

They examined contribution to temperature rise relative to population size (per capita emissions).

National Per-capita contributions to climate warming. Colors indicate values above or below the global average, where orange and red are higher, and yellow and green are lower than the current (year 2005) world average of 0:11 C per billion people. Credit: Matthews et all.

Here China and India fall to the bottom of the rankings. The UK jumps to first place ahead of the U.S. when population size is considered—with the top seven countries all coming from the developed world.

They examined also emissions relative to geographical area.

Here countries, such as the UK and Japan jump up the rankings, having caused disproportionately more warming than the size of their country would suggest, while Canada and Australia fall down the table.

Understanding countries’ total historical emissions is a hugely complex task—and the researchers warn the latest results should be considered as a “reasonable best guess.”

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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