The international debate on climate change is heavily influenced by notions of fairness and justice. One of the most important principles referred to internationally is that of polluter pays. The most common interpretation of polluter pays is that national targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be based on the level of emissions per person.
This paper reports new calculations of total greenhouse gas emissions per person for all 35 Annex B parties to the Kyoto Protocol, i.e. the industrialised nations that have signed up to emissions reduction targets.1 The calculations are based on the official communications submitted by the various nations to the UN. They apply to emissions of the three main greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in 1995 from all sources and all sinks measured in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e).
The results show that Australia has the world’s highest greenhouse gas emissions per person at 26.7 tonnes; this is twice the average level for all other wealthy countries (13.4 tonnes) and 25% higher than emissions per person in the USA (21.2 tonnes).
While the USA has higher emissions per capita from energy (20.6 tonnes compared to Australia’s 17.6 tonnes), Australia has much higher levels of emissions from agriculture and land-use change.