by Thomas Schulz

There is an updated version here (2019 data, released by IEA 2021)

AQAL Capital releases annual update to “Worldwide CO2 Emissions” variwide chart.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently published their report “CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion 2020″, with data from 2018. A good reason to update our annual variwide chart! Let’s have a look at the visually striking (and maybe sobering) picture of manmade CO2 emissions:

2018 Worldwide CO2 Emissions, visualized in a variwide chart;
based on IEA (2020), CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion

Which type of data is represented?

The variwide chart allows the visualization of a multitude of data dimensions in one easy-to-read diagram. These data dimensions are: 

  1. Individual country data, such as China, South Africa, or the USA or a group of countries such as Middle East, Africa, or Australia/New Zealand,
  2. Population by country or group of countries, 
  3. Per capita CO2 emissions, and 
  4. CO2 emissions growth year-over-year

The total CO2 emissions of a region are represented as a rectangular area. The height of each rectangle is proportional to the CO2 emissions per capita and the width is proportional to the population of the represented region. The regions are sorted by CO2 emissions per capita, from the highest to the lowest.

The color of the rectangles indicate their growth rate: “heating up” is represented from light red to dark red, and “cooling down” goes from light blue to dark blue.

Which questions are answered?

This type of visualization answers immediately questions like

  • “Which countries are the largest CO2 emitters?”
  • “Which countries have the best per capita CO2 efficiency?”
  • “Which countries are reducing their CO2 emissions?”
  • “Which countries are still increasing their CO2 emissions?”

CO2 emissions vary widely from one country to the next. We find 31.3 t per capita in Qatar, 15.0 t per capita in the U.S., 8.4 t per capita in Germany, 6.8 t per capita in China, all the way down to Africa with 0.98 t per capita (with 0.64 t per capita without South Africa and Libya). The 2018 world average was 4.42 t CO2 emissions per capita. Most industrialized nations range between 4 t and 15 t CO2 emissions per capita.

Why there should be no finger pointing

In 2018, the total CO2 emissions grew to 33.5 Gt. This is 2% higher than in 2017 and is due to both, the overall population growth and the average increase per capita, with each about 1% per person. It is important to note that the growth of emissions occurs on both sides of the average emissions per capita line represented in the chart through the thin blue line. Countries such as the U.S., Canada, and China which are above the average line have increased their CO2 emissions as have India, and most parts of Asia and Africa, which are below the average line.

The CO2 reduction that is currently taking place in some industrial countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries, represents a relatively small portion of the whole picture. However, the leadership role these countries are playing should not be underestimated. Through their innovations, investments in CO2-reducing technologies, and governance regulations, they pave the way toward a low-carbon economy for others to follow.

Summary: Transformation is Feasible

In summary, it becomes obvious that without significant decrease in CO2 emissions by the world’s largest polluters such as the United States and China, the Earth will not be able to absorb additional CO2 emissions to make room for developing nations such as India and African nations to grow their industrial output. Because of the existing imbalance, developing countries will not have the room to increase their own per capita emissions without endangering the safe operating system of our planet. It goes without question that developed countries are to be made responsible for the current misery. But to what use? Moving forward, the fate of the Earth is being determined by the course of action taken by both developed and developing countries.

Although the overall picture is sobering, it also provides a clear focus on the urgency of addressing the problem: anthropogenic climate change. Humanity needs significant and collective action on many fronts. As far as we are concerned, the best proposal thus far has been made by the Stockholm Resilience Centre through their report to the Club of Rome “Transformation is Feasible”. This report has significantly informed and influenced the investment strategy and tactics of our family office, which we summarized in our recently published book Integral Investing: From Profit to Prosperity.

The variwide chart “Worldwide CO2 Emissions” has been developed and is maintained by AQAL Capital’s co-founder Thomas Schulz. See also additional notes on the chart.

2018 Worldwide CO2 Emissions (by region; per capita), variwide chart by Thomas Schulz is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0