Comprehensive emissions per capita for
industrialised countries

Hal Turton and Clive Hamilton
The Australia Institute

September 2001


'...the Parties included in Annex I shall implement domestic action in accordance with national circumstances and with a view to reducing emissions in a manner conducive to narrowing per capita differences between developed and developing country Parties while working towards achievement of the ultimate objective of the Convention'.


1. Background

The resolution above formed part of the agreement on flexibility mechanisms reached at negotiations in Bonn in July 2001.  It is the first time that official reference has been made in climate change negotiations to the concept of per capita emissions and reflects a growing level of support for some broader principle of equity that would, in time, permit developing countries to enter into the target setting process.  Perhaps the most systematic and influential proposal building on the idea of equal per capita entitlements to the use of the global atmospheric commons is the approach known as ‘contraction and convergence’ advocated by the Global Commons Institute (

Per capita differences in emissions have, nevertheless, had a substantial subterranean effect on negotiations to date.  The exclusion of developing countries from targets is due not only to their low incomes but their low emissions per capita.  In the case of industrialised countries, expectations about the responsibility to take action have been influenced by perceptions of each country’s overall contribution to the climate problem as well as by the profligacy of individual citizens in each country.  This is consistent with the polluter pays principle.

However, serious consideration of these issues can proceed only on the basis of good information on per capita emissions. While any number of reports and papers have reported on energy emissions per capita, no-one has reported on comprehensive per capita emissions, that is, taking account of all sources and sinks.[1]  Yet the data required to calculate per capita emissions for industrialised countries are readily available from the official communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The present paper provides the best estimates of the comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions for Annex B countries for the most recently available year, 1998 in mot cases.  It also analyses the sectoral breakdown of per capita emissions for selected countries.


2. Data for comprehensive emissions

Under Articles 4 and 12 of the UNFCCC, Parties to the Convention submit national greenhouse gas inventories to the UNFCCC secretariat (UNFCCC 1992).

The information presented in Table 1 is based on recently submitted inventory data for Annex B (industrialised) countries, and is reproduced as reported by the UNFCCC.  The UNFCCC has modified the data slightly through rounding and correction of calculation and typographical errors.  In most cases, the UNFCCC has made available greenhouse gas inventory submissions for 2000, which cover the year 1998.  Exceptions (with most recent data indicated in brackets) include Iceland (1995), Japan (1997), Liechtenstein (1990), Luxembourg (1995), Romania (1994), the Russian Federation (1996) and Slovenia (1990).  The UNFCCC does not provide any data on Croatia, presumably because it had not submitted any appropriate inventories.

The figures presented in Table 1 are based on emissions of the three main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).  Emissions of perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride are not included.  For the three main gases included, we have used the following global warming potentials to convert the gases to carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e): CO2 - 1; CH4 - 21; and N2O - 310 (IPCC 1997).

The source categories (fuel combustion, agriculture, etc.) are defined according to IPCC guidelines.  Emissions resulting from the combustion of fuel used in international shipping and aviation are not included in country totals, in accordance with IPCC methodology.  Emissions and removals from the land-use change and forestry sector are included in the totals.

Table 1 also reports population data from the World Bank (2001), for each country (for the appropriate year). These are used to calculate comprehensive per capita emissions.  The comprehensive per capita emissions shown in Table 1 are presented graphically in Figure 1.



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