Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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climate change > factfile > who/what is to blame?

Who/what is to blame?

Posted: 31 Mar 2006

Historically the climate has heated up and cooled down in cycles. Natural factors affecting the climate include volcanic eruptions and changes in the earth's orbit around the sun. However, since the industrial revolution the quantities of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere have increased dramatically. While carbon dioxide, methane, CFCs, and nitrous oxide tend to warm the atmosphere, sulphur dioxide pollution and volcanic eruptions tend to cool it.

  • WWF has developed a measure to attribute carbon dioxide emissions to each individual and country. A country�s energy footprint is calculated as the area required to provide, or absorb the waste from, fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), fuelwood, nuclear energy, and hydropower. The top ten in 2001 - in order of the size of their footprint - are Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Australia, Ireland, Israel, Switzerland, Greece, France and the UK. Between 1961 and 2001 the world's energy footprint has increased by nearly 700 per cent (see graph).

Humanity's energy footprint
Humanity's energy footprint, dominated by fossil fuels, has increased by nearly 700 per cent in the last 40 years. Credit: WWF - Living Planet Report 2004

  • The energy footprint shows the largest per person disparity between high and low income countries. This is, in part, because people can eat only a finite amount of food while energy consumption is limited only by consumers� ability to pay. See graph below:

Energy footprint by region
Per person energy footprints in 2001 show a 14-fold difference between high- and low-income countries. Credit: WWF - Living Planet Report 2004

  • The US is the owner of the world's largest transportation system, which emits more CO2 than any other nation's total economy, except that of China, and presently accounts for seven of ten barrels of oil the US consumes.

  • According to a report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions From US Transportation, transportation sources in the US account for nearly a third of the nation's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and are rising faster than in any other sector.

    Almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions::in California comes from passenger vehicles.::� US Environmental Protection Agency
    Almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions
    in California comes from passenger vehicles.
    � US Environmental Protection Agency

  • Cars and light trucks produce 20 per cent of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution in the US.

  • With existing technologies and investments, the Pew report says that it would be possible to reduce US carbon emissions by about 20 per cent by 2015, and almost 50 per cent by 2030. Fuel savings for new cars and light trucks can be increased by 25 to 33 per cent over the next 10 to 15 years using market-ready technologies. Emerging technologies, including advanced diesel engines and hybrid-electric vehicles are likely to reap fuel savings of 50 to 100 per cent by 2030 in the country.

  • 19 per cent of the world's methane production comes from rice paddies. As developing world populations increase, and the demand for rice increases, more and more land will be devoted to rice, and this will further increase methane concentrations in the atmosphere. Other methane contributors include: cattle and other ruminants (20.2 per cent), forest and land fires (9.7 per cent), oil and gas pipeline leaks (7.9 per cent), termites (7 per cent), landfill seapage (6.2 per cent), coal mining (6.2 per cent), animal wastes (5 per cent) and sewerage (4.4 per cent).

  • The concentrations of CFCs - used as refrigerants, solvents and aerosol repellents - doubled between 1976 and 1989. Once in the atmosphere CFCs, which are extremely effective greenhouse gases, and will stay around for many years. CFCs also destroy the ozone layer, which shields humans from harmful ultraviolet rays. Concentrations of the gases started to stabilize only in the early 1990s, as a consequence of the Montreal Protocol.

  • Deforestation, especially in the tropics, accounts for around a quarter of all carbon emissions each year.

  • Approximately a quarter of the greenhouse gases released in the UK are emitted by individuals in domestic dwellings.

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