How huge is the UK's share of historical CO2 emissions?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

In its end of year round-up, UKSCN included the following paragraph:

"We are looking to COP26 in Glasgow as an opportunity to shed a light on the UK’s lack of climate ambition.  As a country responsible for a huge share of historical emissions and colonial atrocities, we must also show international solidarity with those who will be travelling from all over the globe to demand action from world leaders, through hosting activists, helping run Conference of the Youth (COY16) and organising mass mobilisations."
Given that there’s a need to draw people into the movement, using tendentious phrases such as "colonial atrocities" will not help.  Someone with a sense of audience should be watching this. 
But anyway, just how huge” is our share of historical emissions?  Given that 50% of the CO2 has been put there since the 1st Earth Summit in 1992, and the UK is now a bit player (<2%) it cannot be all that big, as this graph confirms.
Looking at WRI data published in the Guardian on emissions between 1900 and 2004, the UK's share of this was 5%.  The USA had 30%, Russia, 8%, Germany 7%, and Japan 4%.
Given that emissions before 1900 were tiny, compared to today, that will not increase the UK's 5% figure by much, if at all.
That doesn't look too huge to me.  So maybe the UK's problem is a matter of original sin.  Because we started the industrial revolution, numbers don't matter and we are now expected to bear a heavy responsibility and expiate our guilt.  But it's not really our fault as the industrial revolution would have begun somewhere else at a later point if it hadn't been started here.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Hi Bill, Thanks for your interesting reflections in your blog, and for a very interesting and useful book for my international teacher students. We have used your and Paul´s book twice and will have it as course literature next autumn semester (2020) again.

    Hope you are well! Here follows a quick question – hoping for a quick feedback from you and Paul Vare, who I just have mailed!

    Would you urgently consider maybe writing an article or a paper together with Paul Vare and me on a study/research analysis of my international teacher students´´´ examination/home assignments?
    Approx. 20 students from mainly Europe will hand in these on January 17, 2020?
    Please, see syllabus:

    I have used your book as course literature and had discussions on that book led by students as chairs. Please, see “Literature seminar – examination 1 – 2019” which I could forward, if I get your e-mail address? I also have also the three questions that each student extracted as important to discuss further after reading the book.

    Our study could be seen as a collaborative educational development and research on SDGs and teacher education in local – global contexts. And, maybe you could use it as an assessment or evaluation of your book, when put in an educational context?

    Is there any question or chapter in particular that I should remind my students to put emphasis on in their analysis, when they the closest days finalize their home assignments and send them in to me?

    Please, let me know if we should catch this opportunity for a small study and maybe a conference paper ending up with an article manuscript for EER?

    BTW, do you know about and could recommend any meeting (maybe with you and Paul?) or conference in UK during this spring semester? I have been given a scholarship by my university department to go to York on a CiCea - CitizED Conference, and could/must send an abstract latest 15th of January – with or without your cooperation as of above or otherwise.

    Is there any other important meeting or UK meeting or conference 2020 that you rather recommend?

    Cordially yours
    Birgitta Nordén

    PhD. Lecturer & Researcher

    Institution: Dept. Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Society
    Faculty of Education and Society
    Malmö University, Sweden.
    Nordenskiöldsgatan 10, 205 06 Malmö.
    +46 40 665 80 20 (+46 70 322 4111)