Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Global Trends in Carbon and Sulfur Emissions

I'm preparing a lecture on environmental economics for both my course "Economic Way of Thinking 1" at the Crawford School and as a guest lecture in an introductory economics course at the Treasury. I'm planning to open the lecture by presenting some global and regional trends, focusing on carbon and sulfur emissions. First the global trends using data from CDIAC and Steven Smith:

and then data by country:

Really the global trends for sulfur and carbon are not that dissimilar. Carbon just trends much more strongly than sulfur so that there is slower growth in carbon in the 1980s and 1990s but a decline in sulfur emissions in that period. On the other hand, I don't think that the reversal in the trend of sulfur emissions that I wrote about a few years ago is yet being fundamentally reversed given recent progress in China, though I could be wrong.

The regional CO2 chart shows the UK with flat and declining CO2 emissions as being the outlier. This pattern is typical of several western European countries. The time path of sulfur emissions is much more similar for the UK and US. Reductions in emissions in Europe have been bigger than in North America. Australia is an outlier among developed countries in seeing rising emissions in recent decades.


  1. Sulphur dioxide imposes local harms doesn't it? In which case as people get richer they want to reduce that pollution - standard Kuznets curve. CO2 isn't locally harmful, so why expect CO2 to decline with rising incomes in the same way?

  2. Sorry ignore that, I misread your post.

  3. The local vs. global pollutant is probably part of the story but the fact that end of pipe technologies to remove sulfur are viable and were relatively easy to develop is also part of the story. In other words both the demand and the supply side differ.