Report reveals countries responsible for the most total carbon emissions so far

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Steam fumes above the coal power plant in large area The machine is working to generate electricity the beautiful morning with fog and clouds, air pollution.
Which countries bear the most responsibility for historical climate change? (Getty)

Analysis of total carbon emissions by countries around the world since 1850 has shown which nations bear the most responsibility for carbon emitted thus far.

America is the biggest polluter in history, with China close behind – and the UK in eighth place

The research by Carbon Brief, found that in total humans have pumped around 2,500 billion tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) into the atmosphere since 1850.

That means nations around the world are left with less than 500 GtCO2 of the remaining carbon budget to stay below 1.5C of warming.

Six of the countries in the top 10 are yet to make new pledges to cut their emissions before the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, The Guardian reports

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

For the first time, the analysis includes CO2 emissions from land use and forestry, in addition to those from fossil fuels.

In first place on the rankings, the US has released more than 509 GtCO2 since 1850 and is responsible for the largest share of historical emissions, Carbon Brief analysis shows, with some 20% of the global total.

Large European nations, such as Germany and the UK, account for 4% and 3% of the global total, respectively, not including overseas emissions under colonial rule.

Carbon Brief says that taken together, cumulative emissions between 1850-2021 add up to some 86% of the carbon budget for an even chance of staying below 1.5C, or 89% of the budget for a two-thirds chance.

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

As emissions have increased, the carbon budget has been used up at an accelerating pace, with half the cumulative total since 1850 having been released over the past 40 years alone.

From the start of 2022, the remaining 1.5C budget (50% probability) will be used up within 10 years, if annual emissions remain at current levels – and the budget for a two-thirds likelihood of staying below 1.5C would last just seven years.

The top 10 countries by cumulative emissions

  1. United States

  2. China

  3. Russia

  4. Brazil

  5. Indonesia

  6. Germany

  7. India 

  8. United Kingdom

  9. Japan 

  10. Canada

This summer, climate researchers said the "heat dome" affecting North America was "virtually impossible" without human-induced climate change. 

Researchers working on this year's bombshell IPCC report say that weather events this year show the effect of climate change are already here. 

Paulo Artaxo, a lead author of the report and an environmental physicist at the University of Sao Paulo, said: "The heatwave in Canada, fires in California, floods in Germany, floods in China, [and] droughts in central Brazil make it very, very clear that climate extremes are having a very heavy toll."

The report found that nearly all of the current rises in temperature can be attributed to human influence. 

Read more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives growth of green sea slime visible from space

The IPCC found that the effect of human activity had raised temperatures by around 1.1C above the average in the 19th century – and the contribution of the sun and volcanoes is almost zero.

The report warns that there is only a 50% chance of staying below the 1.5C threshold called for by the 2015 Paris agreement if emissions remain below 500 billion tons from 2020 onwards. 

Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said: “Our opportunity to avoid even more catastrophic impacts has an expiration date. 

"The report implies that this decade is truly our last chance to take the actions necessary to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. 

"If we collectively fail to rapidly curb greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s, that goal will slip out of reach.”

Watch: How climate change is threatening your cup of coffee

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