A look at international transport emissions

How do Australia’s transport emissions compare with the rest of the world?

This post takes a high level look at some international data.

The most extensive data source appears to be from the International Energy Association, which includes 140 “countries” but uses slightly different estimation methodology to UNFCCC data.

Transport emissions per capita

The following chart shows the countries with the highest transport emissions per capita in 2007, from IEA report CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion 2009.

Note there is a very long tail on this chart, and my cut off point is arbitrary (Portugal and Oman aslo come in at 1.8). For the record, the Democratic Republic of Congo is at the bottom of the list with 0.009 tonnes per capita.

The top of the list includes many very small countries:

  • Luxemburg has a population of 480,000 (and also the highest GPD per capita in the world)
  • Gibraltar has a population of 28,000 (where shipping and tourism are major industries)
  • Qatar has a population of 836,000
  • Netherlands Antilles (which consists of two sets of tiny islands in the Caribbean) has a population of 191,000. Petroleum is a major part of the economy leading to high wealth.

This makes Australia the fourth highest per capita transport emitter of countries with a population over 1 million. Australia is also fourth highest of the 31 OECD countries.

The following chart is for road transport, which is perhaps not as good a comparison given differences in rail and sea transport networks between countries:

Growth in transport emissions

The following charts use time series data from the UNFCCC for countries where both a 1990 and 2007 figure is available.

Firstly the growth in annual transport emissions:

Many of the high growth countries are unexpected for me. The former states of the Soviet Union have shown large reductions in emissions.

Unfortunately the UNFCCC supplies less population data in their datasets, but the following chart shows the growth in per capita transport emissions for countries where 1990 and 2007 emissions and population data is available:

Transport emissions and wealth

So does being richer mean having higher transport emissions?

The following scatter graph shows transport emissions per capita and GDP per capita (2000 US dollars using purchasing power parity) for the countries in the IEA dataset:

On visual inspection there appears to be a strong correlation with a few outliers (the Netherlands Antilles comes up again!).

The following chart cuts out the high outliers and zooms into the bottom left corner:

Some interesting patterns appear with regard to countries not in the “main correlation” (if you will):

  • Many countries with higher emissions to wealth ratios have large oil industries (and often high petrol price subsidies). Eg Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, Venezuela, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran.
  • Most countries with high wealth and lower emissions are small in size (Hong Kong being near the extremes for size and wealth).
  • Cuba, which lost its supply of oil from the Soviet support in 1989, is known for a dramatic transformation to reduce oil dependence. Cuba is showing somewhat modest wealth (slightly above the global median) with low transport emissions per capita.
  • The rich English-speaking countries of USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia show high emissions per capita compared with other similarly wealthy countries. They could use the excuse of a large land mass, but this is less applicable to New Zealand. So is the high emissions a product of geographic size (note the Russian Federation shows relatively high transport emissions relative to wealth), and/or is it a product of unsustainable transport patterns? (those four countries being very car dependent for urban transport). Probably both I suspect.

Does this show countries that might be leaders at decoupling wealth from transport emissions?

Of the “non-tiny” states, Israel, Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, Switzerland and Sweden seem to be doing fairly well. The Netherlands is world-renowned for having high rates of cycling and I know the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden have excellent public transport networks. I don’t know much about transport in Israel and Chinese Taipei.

Another look at this is the ratio of transport emissions to GDP (PPP):

Again a lot of oil states appear high in this list (Australia comes in at 121 g/$). Interestingly, the Congo appears high in the list – perhaps because it has such a small GDP. But I am not sure that too many more conclusions can be drawn from this data.

International aviation emissions

Finally, emissions from international aviation bunkers (that make up around 6% of global transport emissions) but are not included in country emissions figures:

Many of the top countries in this list are major international aviation hubs, eg Qatar, UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong. Assigning these emissions to those countries is probably unfair if a large proportion of the passengers are travelling through. But it does highlight their dependence on the very carbon intensive industry of international aviation.

Other countries are island states where water-based passenger transport is less competitive – eg Iceland, Netherlands Antilles, Cyprus, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, Malta. Others appear to simply be wealthy countries – eg Luxemburg, Bahrain, Kuwait, Netherlands.

Emissions from international marine bunkers make up around 9% of global transport emissions, according to the data.


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