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New Research Maps Countries' Contributions to Global Warming

Climate

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.

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

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The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.