“I love Sweden. The entire world should be like Sweden. They all like to drink and get naked, and the women are hot. I can’t think of a better nation on the planet.”
I wanted to review which countries were the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Most people know that China and the US are the top two offenders, but population size certainly plays a big part in that statistic. I was more interested on a per capita basis, and I’ve heard many times that Canada was one of the worst, although we generate less than two percent of global emissions due to a smaller population. To be fair I do think we have some excuses for a higher per capita emissions rate: we’re the second largest country in the world, typically with vast distances separating many of our cities, and we’re also in a colder environment. But just how do we compare to other countries out there?
I was surprised when I started to look around that the last up-to-date information I could find on how much GHG emissions each country generates was from 2008, with 2010 data only estimates. Perhaps it takes more time to compile this information accurately than I realized, but I certainly like to review the latest statistics if at all possible. (To that end, if any readers know where I can find more current information, please let me know.) Still, I expect that things haven’t changed too much since 2008, at least when comparing country to country, so I still found it a useful exercise nonetheless.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, my home country is ranked 15th out of 17 nations they looked at for per capita emissions from some OECD countries. We’re among the worst three, only outranked by the US and Australia. This gives us a ‘D’ rating, the worst possible, and is a far cry from the three best countries: Sweden, Switzerland and France, all of which received an ‘A.’
From 1990 to 2008, Canada’s per capita emissions increased by 3.2 percent, and our total emissions increased a whopping 24 percent, whereas countries like Germany and the UK managed to reduce emissions. In 2008, Canada generated more than ten times the emissions of Sweden despite a population only a little over three times as many people. France is almost double our population size and yet we still out-emit them.
So why are Sweden, Switzerland and France doing so much better than Canada? And although we can try to blame a northern latitude for our emissions, Sweden is also a northern country and yet has the least emissions per capita of any country listed! Why is that?
Turns out that Sweden generates 45 percent of its electricity from hydro, 48 percent from nuclear, and six percent from biomass (i.e.wood). Switzerland generates 54 percent of its electricity from hydro and 41 percent from nuclear power. France generates the most from nuclear at 79 percent, with 11 percent from hydro, and the remaining 10 percent from natural gas and renewables. All three of these nations generate anywhere from six to seven tonnes of GHG emissions per capita annually, and that’s because all of them manage to generate 90 percent or greater from non-fossil fuel sources. Compare that to Canada at 22 tonnes, the US at 22.5 tonnes, and Australia at 25.6 tonnes per capita. Big differences there.
And why do the offenders have such a poor record? Canada produces 60 percent of its electricity from hydro and 15 percent from nuclear, leaving 25 percent to come from fossil fuels. Australia and the US both produce about 70 percent of their electricity from coal.
Clearly there’s room for improvement for Canada, Australia and the US. Looking at the numbers, the least offending nations all use more nuclear power, and tend to use more renewables as well. Say what you want about the concerns of nuclear power, but in the present day, it’s the only reliable source of power that meets our energy needs consistently. It’s not intermittent like wind or solar, and it’s also a lot cheaper than those two at present. I don’t love the idea of nuclear power forever because we still have to dispose of nuclear waste and the mining of uranium has its own environmental concerns. But I think it’s a necessary part of the transition to a world that uses much less fossil fuels.
We need to develop wind, solar, and geothermal along with more hydro and biomass, but that’s going to take time. The storage of intermittent energy sources like wind and solar need further development. Regardless of how you look at it, Canada, Australia and the US have a lot of room for improvement.