The United States has done more to accelerate global warming than any other country in history, according to a study conducted by Canadian researchers at Concordia University, Montreal.The study found the United States responsible for roughly 20 percent of total warming since industrialization—equivalent to a global temperature increase of .27 degrees Fahrenheit. Seven nations are accountable for more than 60 percent of all heat-trapping gas emissions between 1750 and 2005—China and Russia are responsible for 8 percent each, India and Brazil had 7 percent each and the U.K. and Germany had 5 percent each. France, Indonesia and Canada round off the top 10. Bloomberg reports: The findings are important for diplomats trying to broker a new deal by 2015 to limit fossil fuel emissions. The question of historical responsibility caused friction at talks in Warsaw in November, when richer nations blocked a Brazilian proposal that would use pollution levels dating back to the industrial revolution to help set limits on future emissions. “A clear understanding of national contributions to climate warming provides important information with which to determine national responsibility for global warming, and can therefore be used as a framework to allocate future emissions,” the researchers said in their paper, to be published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. “Our analysis has the potential to contribute to this discussion.” The study’s allocation of responsibility looks different when nations are re-ranked to give per-capita accountability, Bloomberg notes. Among the 20 largest total emitters, developed countries occupy the top seven places on the list—there, the U.K. is the greatest offender, followed by the United States and Canada. At eighth, Brazil is the highest-ranking developing nation. Acknowledging the huge disparities between rich and poor nations with respects to per-capita contributions to global warming may be critical in efforts to decrease future emissions.
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.