by Brian Unrau, President, Community Energy Development Co-operative

As I end up involved in discussion regarding carbon footprints, reducing emissions, and hitting targets to limit warming, I often encounter the sentiment that we, as Canadians, aren’t really the problem, and that it is other countries who really need to step up.  In looking at the total emissions on a per country basis, it can be easy to point fingers at the top total emitters (especially China), expecting them to clean up their act before we need to clean up our own.

CO2 Emissions by Country

CO2 Emissions by Country
Chart data from

As outlined in the chart above, the top five emitters make up 60% of total global emissions.  In fact, outside of these five, no other country makes up more than 2% of total global emissions.  That said, all of the other countries do make up 40% of emissions, which is still a meaningful amount to try to reduce. Dividing each country’s total emissions by their population tells a very different story.


Per Capita CO2 Emissions by Country

Per Capita CO2 Emissions by Country
Chart data from:

Here, we find Canada is actually one of the worst emitters on a per capita basis. We produce about 16 Tonnes per person, more than 3 times the global average of 5 Tonnes per person.  Meanwhile, the average person in China produces less than 50% of the emissions of the average Canadian, and the average person in India produces just 11% of that of Canadians. These countries can say that they aren’t the problem, it is other countries (including Canada) that are the biggest emitters. Of course, they are also correct.

Given that Canada only makes up about 1.6% of global emissions, does it matter what we do?  Absolutely, and in several ways.

Local Investment Brings Down Costs Globally

The solar industry equivalent to Moore’s Law is that each time the solar industry doubles in size, the installed cost comes down by about 20%.  With Canadians doing their share to invest in solar energy and grow the market, not only have we reduced our own carbon footprint, but we have contributed to bringing the costs for solar down substantially.  Panels that we were buying at $3.85/watt in 2009 are now available to us at $0.54/watt, a reduction of 86%.

Because of these decreases in the costs of solar, China has become the leader in installing new solar generation capacity.  Within the last year, China has cancelled the construction of more than 260 coal plants. Some of these were already under construction.  There are many areas of the world where solar power has now become the lowest cost form of energy production.  By making local investments in renewable energy, we can continue to help bring the costs of these technologies down. Soon it could be illogical and costly for developing countries to use anything but renewable energy.

Our Consumption Is Their Production

China, along with many of its neighbours, has become the World’s factory. Many of the products we purchase are manufactured or assembled overseas. A substantial amount of the carbon footprint of many overseas countries ought to be shifted to reflect the manufacturing and export of products consumed elsewhere.  As we reduce, reuse and recycle, not only do we reduce our own local emissions, but we also help reduce the energy consumption overseas.

Putting A Health Price On Carbon

As we reduce our emissions, there are real local benefits that are realized.  About 10 years ago, before efforts were made to close coal plants in Ontario, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) estimated the cost of air pollution to the Canadian economy at $8.1 Billion.  These costs resulted from 21,000 premature deaths, 11,000 hospital admissions a year, 92,000 emergency department visits annually, 620,000 visits a year to a doctor’s office for treatment and 22.5 million cases of minor illness annually.  Of these early annual deaths, 9,500 were happening each year in Ontario. More than 10% of these were due to short-term exposure – such as smog days that trigger severe asthma attacks and strokes.  The balance were due to chronic exposure to pollutants over time. In 2005, Ontario experienced 53 smog days. In both 2014 and 2015, there were no smog days.

Yes, We Can Make An Impact!

As we participate in global accords, it is absolutely worth it for us to do our part. It really does matter what we do right here at home.

One Response

  1. Clearly stated, and well reasoned. It is hard not to believe that we all play a role in helping humanity to keep our planet habitable, since each individual is currently adding to the greenhouse.

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