The Rest of the World

Here in North America, we are surrounded with rhetoric denouncing the feasibility of climate change mitigation. It’s not possible to reduce our emissions, people say. It’s not worth it.

The situation in the U.S. Congress regarding this issue is becoming so bizarre that hopes for an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have grown faint. Without the U.S. on board, many countries (see: Canada) will bail out entirely.

Not all countries are waiting for everyone else, however. Many developed countries, particularly in Europe, have gone ahead and achieved significant cuts in their emissions. Let’s take a step out of the little bubble of North America and see what the rest of the world managed to do while we bickered about whether or not there was even a problem.


Countries: the European Union (EU), representing most of Europe

Emission Targets: 20% below 1990 levels by 2020

How They’ll Get There: The EU started a cap-and-trade system in 2005. They also plan to target energy efficiency and develop the use of renewable energy.

How They’re Doing : The total emissions of the EU have declined slightly since 1990. This is partly because many Eastern European countries are still transitioning from communism, and their emissions are fairly low while their economies recover. However, some rich countries such as Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK have made significant cuts in their emissions, and, as of 2008, were already around 10-20% below 1990 levels.


Country: the United Kingdom (UK)

Emission Targets: 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2012, as per their Kyoto targets. Through their Climate Change Acts, the UK has also set a goal of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

How They’ll Get There: The government is aiming for 40% of their energy to come from low-carbon sources (both renewable and nuclear). They are also focusing on efficiency, and planning a cap-and-trade system.

How They’re Doing: The UK is well on track to meet, and even exceed, their Kyoto agreements. By 2010, their emissions were predicted to be 11% below their Kyoto targets.


Country: Norway

Emission Targets: Norway has some of the most ambitious targets in the world. Not only are they aiming for emissions to be 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, they are planning a carbon-neutral economy – 100% cuts – by 2050. If a major international agreement comes to pass, like Copenhagen was supposed to be, they will pledge for carbon neutrality by 2030.

How They’ll Get There: In addition to their cap and trade system, Norway is investing a lot of money into carbon capture and storage (CCS). They have also introduced taxes on natural gas and stricter efficiency standards for new houses.

How They’re Doing: Norway’s emissions have increased by 8% since 1990. Hopefully their extensive plans will reverse that trend.


Country: Australia

Emission targets: If an international agreement comes to pass, Australia will reduce their emissions to 25% below 2000 levels by 2020. Otherwise, they will shift that target to 5-15%. Normally, using a baseline that’s later than the standard 1990 is a warning sign, a clever trick that governments use to make their targets look stricter than they are (see: Canada). However, since Australia’s emissions fell slightly between 1990 and 2000, the equivalent target with respect to 1990 is actually more than 25%.

How They’ll Get There: The Australian Parliament has had difficulty passing cap-and-trade legislation. They are hoping to implement this eventually, but will focus on energy efficiency and renewables in the mean time.

How They’re Doing: Originally, Australia refused to sign Kyoto, but in 2007 a new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was elected. He committed the country to Kyoto targets, just a little late. So far, it looks like Australia will easily meet their targets of 8% over 1990 levels by 2012.


Country: Japan

Emission targets: Japan has set solid targets of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

How They’ll Get There: Japan has a cap-and-trade system, and is considering a carbon tax. They also want 10% of their energy to come from renewables by 2020.

How They’re Doing: Japan’s emissions have increased slightly since 1990. As of 2008, they were about 6% above 1990 levels.


Country: Canada

Emission targets: The Canadian government has pledged to reduce emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. However, emissions in 2005 were quite a bit higher than they were in 1990. When you adjust this estimate to the standard baseline, it’s actually a 2.5% increase. The Environment Canada website describes this as an “ambitious target”. Go figure!

How They’ll Get There: So far, the Canadian government has tightened up fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles, but that’s about it. The current administration refuses to consider meaningful action until the United States does. In fact, the House of Commons recently passed a bill setting meaningful emission targets (20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050)…but the Senate, which has a Conservative majority, voted the bill down with absolutely no debate. Given the fact that Senators are appointed by Prime Ministers, not elected by citizens, it’s hard to see this action as anything less than anti-democratic.

How They’re Doing:By 2008, Canadian emissions had soared to 24% above 1990 levels.


This data almost makes me feel ashamed to be Canadian, to be a part of such an obstructionist country. Look at what countries in Europe have managed to do. It wasn’t impossible, like so many North American politicians warned. And then look at countries like the United States and Canada, that have not only failed to reduce their emissions, but have actively worked against any kind of a plan to do so.

Future generations will not look on us kindly. We will become the villains of our own history books.


Update: By popular request:

Country: United States of America

Emission targets: None

How They’ll Get There: Despite not having a formal target for emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate emissions from fossil-fuel fired power plants and refineries in late December. The Republican Party is resorting to all sorts of silliness to try to change this.

How They’re Doing: As of 2008, US emissions were 14% above 1990 levels.


16 thoughts on “The Rest of the World

  1. Nice post Kate, interesting to see the various goals and progress. Do you know how the USA has done in terms of emissions change over the past 20 years?

  2. I’m not going to acuse the UK of cheating, but we were lucky. We had a programme of switching from coal to gas for primary generation, that just happens to fit nicely with measuring from 1990 levels.

  3. Re: sitting on fence till someone else jumps:

    If a major international agreement comes to pass:
    Norway “will pledge for carbon neutrality by 2030”

    Australia “will reduce their emissions to 25% below 2000 levels by 2020”

    UK (at Copenhagen, promised to increase emission reduction targets)

    Canada uses fudged numbers based on a different baseline (2005 vs 1996) to make it look as though reductions comparable with other nations are being made (WTF is all that about?) and… “refuses to consider meaningful action until the United States does”

    USA continues to point the finger at China’s new coal power plants (when it is able to take a breath from trying to reason with its horde of rabid right-wing deniers).

    I shouldn’t feel too bad about being Canadian, Kate. Everyone’s playing the same stupid “we’ll do our bit but only if agree to as well” game too. I really can’t figure this out: it suggests to me that nations believe one or more of:
    + there’s some disadvantage to being an early adopter of non-fossil fuel technologies
    + other nations can be jollied into making a commitment
    + climate science isn’t settled, and peak oil is a myth (even though the IEA acknowledges oil peaked in 2006) — and so they do the least that they can get away with given that most other developed nations are doing something.


    Do you have any more numbers for *the rest of* the rest of the world? :)

    Thanks for this post. In particular, I wasn’t aware of how much kudos Norway deserves!

    • I really can’t figure this out: it suggests to me that nations believe one or more of: […]

      Colin, perhaps — this is my guess — perhaps the politicians simply have this idea that the laws of physics are merely another special interest group, and like any special interest group, they can be ‘bought’ or at least pacified with some pleasant words, a dash of sophistry, and a bit of creative accounting.

      Anyway, I read that the US federal government is on the brink of a shutdown. Perhaps something interesting will happen in the realm of US climate policy after all this.


  4. Kate:

    Regarding the UK you write:

    “Through their Climate Change Acts, the UK has also set a goal of 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.”

    You may be pleasantly surprised to find it is not a “goal” but a statutory “duty” to “ensure”.

    The Act begins:

    “It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.”

    Also the use of the word “net” is perhaps one you would like as it seems to be the emissions from UK sources less removals due to activities in the UK, i.e. the 2050 figure is the actual net, not actual net less offsets. (This needs to be compared to Norwegian Carbon Neutrality which means something different.)

    On the face of it the UK commitment is eye-watering and its implications are actually quite staggering.

    One would have to ask why one nation would commit to this, irrespective of all other nations’ intentions.

    Personally I expect there is a strong element of bowing to the inevitable. This is not true of other nations yet.

    Now a duty is not a guarantee, but statutory duties cannot be ignored nor compliance mechanisms set up by statute quietly abandoned.


  5. Why is Canada and US reported as 2008, and UK at 2010? Is this a typo?

    No, I used the most recent data available for each country. -Kate

  6. It appears you are using different sources for your numbers, and it affects the tale. 2008 and 2010 have a big difference. According to CDIAC, Canada’ numbers dropped by about 7% from 2008 to 2009. USA dropped by 10% from 2008 to 1010. Perhaps you are crediting Europe for some things that are caused by global economic recession.

    Everyone’s emissions went down due to the recent recession. That’s why I took data with respect to 1990. Economic ups and downs have happened along the way, but Europe’s success is not limited to the last two years. Go take a look at the data. -Kate

    Also, I think the 80% long term target is of relevance. As the posted above noted the UK is cheating a bit by going to natural gas, and getting credit for that in using a 1990 baseline. Further cuts are not as easy. Same for Canada. Suppose they are achieving the short term cut by doing something similar. Then you have spent a lot of money for a small cut, while the IPCC says much larger cuts are needed.

    And even if Canada were to cut to 20% below 1990 levels, that would be about a 1/3 cut in emissions(from 2008). Canada’s proportion of global emissions is so small this would be foolish. From 2007 to 2009, China increased by 266000, almost double Canada’s total emissions. And that is after the recession at a decreased rate of growth.

    A textbook example of the tragedy of the commons. We learn about mindsets like yours in sociology. When everyone starts thinking they can do whatever they want because they’re too small to matter, tragedy ensues. Also, go look up how much of China’s emissions are due to developed countries outsourcing cheap labour. -Kate

  7. So are these countries going to stop outsourcing cheap labor?
    Yes it is a tragedy of the commons. It is also the reality, hence the word tragedy and not paradox or prisoners dilemma.

    I’m aware that other countries have done things beyond a global recession, but I think Canada is being maligned due to the change in timescales. For example, UK dropped 9% from 2008 to 2009, which is about the amount of reductions you credited them with.

    No no no. With respect to 1990, not 2008! -Kate

    For that matter where are you getting your 2010 numbers? The links you have only go up to 2008, with some 2009 proxy data. It appears UK has a much bigger drop than you wrote.

    All the UK data comes from the link in their section of the article. It’s from the UK government, and is more up to date than the EU. -Kate

  8. >Norway “will pledge for carbon neutrality by 2030″
    Australia “will reduce their emissions to 25% below 2000 levels by 2020″
    UK (at Copenhagen, promised to increase emission reduction targets)

    This amounts to reductions of
    Norway 11056
    Australia 22435
    UK 24000 if target is 25% below 1990.
    Let’s throw in Canada 40000 for a 20% below 1990 level
    and USA 379000, 20% below 1990 level target.
    Total 97000 from all but USA, 476000 including the USA, accumulating over some number of years, perhaps decades.

    Now look at these numbers,
    23739, 22435, 56361, 178008, 203966, 141623, 136135, 115923, 113785, 152285
    These are the annual increases in Chinese emissions the last ten years.

    Any proposed solution has to take this into account, and I have yet to see one that does so. Perhaps what is needed is some analysis of what happened in China the four years prior to this list, when emissions stayed flat.
    Before that there were many years of the 20000-30000 increase variety.
    Either way, China is sitting at 25% of world emissions, and people are calling for an 80% cut longterm.
    Despite a 7% reduction in Canada, 8% in Europe, and 10% in USA from 2007 to 2009, total world emissions increased during that period slightly. The rest of the world percentages are rising, even excluding China.
    India itself increased from 2007 to 2009 by 69000, half of Canada’s total emissions.

    I agree that emissions from China, etc are a problem and must be taken into account. However, that’s not a convincing argument for developed nations to throw in the towel. The vast majority of extra GHG in the air today are our fault, and we are better equipped to reverse our contribution. Also, how will developing economies reduce their emissions if we haven’t gone first, created the technologies, and pushed the market in that direction? -Kate

  9. There’s a post of mine that disappeared, perhaps because it has 3 links.
    Going to your UK link, I see an 11% drop in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2008, and another 10 % drop after that. I didn’t see 2010 numbers anywhere.

    Look under Progress with Kyoto Targets and Beyond. Looking at it again I see it is a prediction for 2010, not actual data. I will fix that in the post.

    Your comment disappeared because of your snide remark about the IPCC, not because of the links. -Kate

  10. OK, it wasn’t the data, but I missed that you were comparing UK to Kyoto targets, which is below 1990 levels.

    I wasn’t making a snide remark about the IPCC, but just recognizing the contradiction of using their data while I am skeptical of it, which others have posted about in the past.
    And indeed I would not support the Canadian 17% cut either, depending on how it was being accomplished.

  11. An overriding concern of mine, while reading articles on the family of subjects which define the question of what a sustainable future will look like, is what the rhetoric on all sides of the issue looks like. Eli Rabett at Rabett Run has recently posted two articles on climate rhetoric which cite the work of Albert Hirschman.( Eli points out four categories of argument which are frequently used to resist the notion that effective action can be taken lower carbon emissions, the first three of these are from Hirschman while the fourth is an addition by Eli. The following is from Eli’s articles.

    I Perversity is claiming that any purposive action to improve something only exacerbates the condition one wishes to remedy

    II Futility is holding that attempts at transformation will be unavailing and will simply fail to make a dent

    III Jeopardy argues that the cost of the proposed change is too high and endangers some previous valued accomplishment.

    IV Hypocricy is the claim that anyone who cares about, for example, climate change, must live in an unheated shack without air conditioning to be taken seriously, and certainly cannot drive a car.

    Readers familiar with the typical lines of argument will recognize these strategies. The argument of futility is used by Mike N in the above comments. My attitude is not that these arguments are all fallacious but that when they are used they should be properly backed up with relevant facts. It should be noted that arguments which look to the motives of the people making them are fraught with danger.

    According to Eli, Hirschman’s book, The Rhetoric of Rejection, outlines the strategies which have been used by political conservatives since the revolutions of the eighteenth century to oppose progress in the sense of the granting of rights to meaningfully participate in government. Eli’s point is that “Hirschman’s taxonomy fits the arguments made by those who reject science, specifically climate science, modern biology, modern medicine and more.” I for one am persuaded that Eli is spot on about this.

    As much as it is true that those who oppose meaningful action use lines of argument that are less than robust, it is at times rather besides the point if a particular rhetorical knife fight is won or lost. A point in case is the recent critique of a Mark Lynas article by Joe Romm. ( While it seems to me that what Romm has to say is correct (Lynas wrote a very poorly argued essay on Nuclear Power) it seems beside the point. Why? Because what I want to know is how we can address the concerns regarding the rising costs of nuclear power. In a world without global warming the argument that we aught not build nuclear power plants because of the concerns regarding costs would be completely valid, but we don’t live in that world. If journalists such as Joe Romm would outline why the rise in cost has happened it might be possible to simultaneously lower costs while building a safer and even more reliable type of power plant. Presently that does not seem to be happening. Arguments of perversity, futility, and jeopardy abound, but the people making these arguments seem unwilling to ask how there arguments might be addressed.

    My 2 cents.

    • Pat:

      While it seems to me that what Romm has to say is correct […] it seems beside the point. Why? Because what I want to know is how we can address the concerns regarding the rising costs of nuclear power. […] If journalists such as Joe Romm would outline why the rise in cost has happened it might be possible to simultaneously lower costs while building a safer and even more reliable type of power plant.

      What? You’re essentially saying that, say, if some person pens an error-filled editorial about how anthrax is not a lethal disease, I can’t just point out that the editorial is bogus, but in addition I am somehow obliged to discuss ways to create a non-lethal anthrax, so that I won’t be guilty of ‘rhetoric’ or of having an ‘anti-anthrax bias’ or some such nonsense.


  12. Thanks for this post. I’m afraid you’re a little optimistic about Australia, since there have been many developments since Rudd ratified Kyoto in 2007. He was kicked out as leader (and PM) for failing to get carbon price legislation through the Senate and then sitting on his hands (amongst other things). This lead not just to change of leadership, but a general election, which resulted in a hung parliament in which the Greens have balance of power in the Senate. A carbon price is back on the table as part of a deal with them to ensure stable government, but it is being vigorously opposed by deep vested interests (esp in the fossil fuel industry, which I’m sure you’re depressingly familiar enough with in Canada and which is also huge in Australia (coal, coal, coal)) and its popularity is currently dropping through the floor. It could well bring down the government and see (effective) deniers back in charge.

    • My feeling is that the Oz government just needs to hold its nerve. (Otherwise they’ll all be labelled with the same weak-kneed Rudd brand.)

      The new Senators take their seats on July 1. I suspect the Libs/Nationals are applying extreme heat now because they know that the game’s nearly up. Only a few weeks before their control in the Senate evaporates.

      • I hope you are right. I’m out of the country at the moment and have been for a few years, and haven’t been following every development.

        Still, the information in the post is unfortunately out of date. The 5% and conditional 25% targets were part of Rudd’s (defeated) package, weren’t they?

        Also, Australia is only going to meet its Kyoto targets because it managed to score a fantastic deal in being allowed to count the avoidance of land clearance towards its targets when that was more or less going to happen anyway. (I’m a little vague on this, so am happy to be corrected).

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