A country’s prosperity is still closely linked to its energy consumption. As 80% of the global energy consumed is based on fossil fuels, high prosperity (measured as GDP per capita) tends to imply high per-capita CO₂ emissions. France is the G20 country which is closest to the goal of being quite prosperous on the one hand and keeping its per-capita carbon emissions relatively low on the other. Nevertheless, France is far from being a climate-neutral economy (which is the political goal).
The chart depicts the link between prosperity and CO2 emissions for the G20 countries (the EU, as a G20 member, is not shown separately). However, several countries deviate considerably from the general trend, mainly due to differences in terms of energy production, consumption and production behaviour and energy prices.
- The US are the country with the highest per-capita GDP (measured in terms of purchasing power parity, PPP). And they are also one of the countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita. While US per-capita CO2 emissions have steadily declined in the last few years and were down by c. 28% in 2017 compared to 2000 – a development largely due to the fact that natural gas (produced by hydraulic fracturing) and renewable energies have replaced coal as a source of electricity – the US are still a carbon-intensive economy. Energy-related CO2 emissions per unit of GDP (PPP) are almost 60% higher than in the European OECD countries. There are several reasons for this difference. Taxes on energy are relatively low and keep energy prices down, which is why energy efficiency, for example of buildings or electronic consumer goods, is not an important aspect for consumers. Average car fuel consumption is higher in the US than in Europe, not least due to the relatively large number of pickup trucks. Air travel is more common in the US than in most other countries in the world. More people use air conditioning than in Europe. And the list goes on. While manufacturing makes up only just above 11% of US GDP, relatively low industrial energy consumption is more than compensated by people’s energy-intensive lifestyle. What we have just said about the US also applies (mutatis mutandis) to Australia, Canada and Saudi-Arabia.
Overall, all prosperous countries above the trend line in the chart have the best chances to reduce their energy consumption and their carbon emissions without (major) losses in prosperity. At the same time, France is the G20 country which is closest to the goal of being quite prosperous on the one hand and keeping its per-capita CO2 emissions relatively low on the other. Nevertheless, France is far from being a climate-neutral economy (which is the political goal in the EU). Even African countries, which are among the poorest world-wide, where energy comes largely from renewables (wood), individual mobility plays no significant role and GDP per capita is only a fraction of that in the developed countries, are not climate-neutral.
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