World carbon emissions and the carbon tax

July 30th, 2012, Published in Articles: Energize

World emissions and climate change are highly emotive and political issues. Any attempt to find out the real facts generally just leads one deeper into a morass of examples of the effects of global warming with an equal number of disputing counter claims.

While the effects of man-made emissions may be debateable, the actual emissions are well documented by the UN climate change bodies, US Energy Information Administration (EIA. www.eia.gov) and others. In particular, the US EIA website includes emissions data by country, dating back to 1980.

World emissions from the consumption of energy

Power generation worldwide is typically around 30% efficient and contributes nearly 70% of world emissions. The EIA website includes the “Emissions data from the consumption of energy”, by country for each year from 1980 to 2010. The collated information for the Top 6 plus South Africa is presented in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1: The collated “Emissions data

from the consumption of energy”.

The 27 countries comprising the European Union are summated and presented as a single entity. Emissions from EU27 countries prior to joining the EU are included to present a balanced picture. The EU27 emissions have remained unchanged over the last 30 years and provide a welcome insight into what can be achieved by a group of socially responsible countries.

The growth in emissions from China stands in stark contrast. Six years after exceeding EU27 emissions, Chinese emissions had grown to double EU27 emissions. China has 1,3-billion people compared to 0,5-billion for the EU27. Legitimate expectations need to be taken into account but the effect is clearly not sustainable.

The growth of emissions in India with 1-billion people provides a clear warning. Africa has a further 1-billion people and per capita emissions of only 15% of EU27 emissions. Both India and Africa have the same legitimate expectations as China.

Progress to date

The annual UN congress of the parties (COP) where delegates from around the world gather to agree a sensible way forward in controlling world emissions has failed spectacularly. The Kyoto protocol, despite its fundamental flaws, provided a basis for the world to move forward. The USA initially committed to a 5% reduction by 2010 and subsequently refused to ratify the protocol. China took over as the world’s largest contributor in 2007 but is classified as a developing country without emissions limits.

Together the US and China contribute nearly half of world emissions. Without their support it is not at all surprising that no progress worth mentioning has been made in the last 20 years. There is a school of thought that says the upcoming COP in Qatar should be structured differently. An exciting delegates programme should be arranged for all countries except the USA and China, who should be left to agree to a binding framework for emissions reduction.

This at least will provide the world a starting point to move forward.

Carbon tax

A carbon tax is one of the mechanisms proposed to reduce emissions. This has been implemented in various countries including Australia. South Africa is actively considering a carbon tax but has not yet been legislated. If implemented at the proposed rate of R120 per ton of CO2, it will result in an increase of R0,12 per kWh on electricity costs alone. This would reduce the competitiveness of South African industry compared to other countries which have not implemented an equivalent carbon tax. The futility of South Africa implementing a carbon tax in isolation is highlighted by the fact that the annual increase in Chinese emissions is more than double the total emissions of South Africa.

The carbon tax can be a valuable tool to regulate world emissions but only if universally and equally applied. The revenue from the carbon tax could provide a valuable source of funds to incentivise carbon reduction projects. This would require the funds to be appropriately ring fenced and universal rules adopted for the allocation of the funds.

The last word


The current trend in world emissions is clearly not sustainable. It is hoped that the upcoming COP18 conference in Qatar will show that the major players are finally ready to address the issues and get a meaningful successor to the Kyoto Protocol in place and ratified.

Contact Ken Gafner, Single Destination Engineering, Tel 011 997-2340, keng@sde.co.za

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