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Who are the main contributors to climate change?

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A quick internet search for the causes of climate change will most likely bring you to images of smoke billowing from coal-fired power plants.

The results of your search engine images tell the truth: Burning coal, natural gas and petroleum for electricity, transportation and heating is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. world.

However, there are also many other factors to consider.

Human activities – for example, the way we heat our homes, power our air conditioners, power our cars, and produce our food – all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, which raise the temperature of the planet.

Different fossil fuels emit different gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, some fluorinated gases and others, into the atmosphere.

But the gas that is emitted most often is carbon dioxide.

A coal-fired power station at sunset. (Getty Images)

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide accounts for 65% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and it comes mainly from the production and combustion of fossil fuels, as well as from deforestation and other destruction of plants and soils that absorb carbon. dioxide.

Methane, which is emitted by livestock, decomposing waste, and producing oil and gas, among others, contributes 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

But what does this tell us about the activities that have the most impact on the climate?

Well, EPA data shows that electricity and heat production accounts for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while food and land use account for 24 percent. It also reveals that industrial processes such as cement and steel production contribute 21 percent, and transportation, including road, rail, air and sea transport, account for 14 percent.

So where do these greenhouse gases come from in the world?

A study by Our World in Data from the University of Oxford, using measurements from 2017 for only fossil fuels and cement production, found that Asia is by far the biggest emitter – accounting for 53% of emissions global – followed by North America at 18%. Europe at 17%, Africa and South America at 3-4% each, and Oceania, which includes Australia and a number of Pacific Islands, at just 1.3% of global emissions.

However, these numbers start to change slightly when broken down by country and by population. China, the United States and India currently lead the global ranking of carbon emissions.

Richard Allan, professor of climatology at the University of Reading in England, explained why this is the case.

“These large countries, with their populations, their significant energy needs, are going to produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions which are at the origin of climate change,” said Allan. “But one of the reasons [they contribute more] is just the number of people in this country. India and China have huge, huge populations. The use of energy also depends on the amount of energy used per person.

A power station in a desert in Qatar.

A power station in a desert in Qatar. (Getty Images)

When you factor in the population, the order changes – and the per capita emissions of China and India are eclipsed by a number of much smaller countries, including Australia, Canada, and some producing countries. oil like Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

It is also important to note that some countries have a long history of emissions production due to earlier industrialization. When it comes to carbon dioxide contributions since 1751, the United States is by far the leader. It is responsible for 25% of historic emissions, twice as many as China – the world’s second-largest national contributor, according to data from Oxford.

The United Kingdom is another great historical emitter. The same data shows that until 1882, more than half of the world’s cumulative emissions came from the UK alone.

But global warming is a global problem that is happening now, and the solutions to this problem come from actions taken by countries and individuals.

The shift to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, along with dietary changes, reforestation, shifting to electric transportation systems and stopping fossil fuel extraction, are all important. actions that could help reduce carbon emissions.

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