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FactCheck: Is Ireland responsible for just 0.000012% of the world's carbon emissions?

Reducing CO2 emissions is seen as key to resolving the climate crisis – but how much carbon does Ireland produce?

Factcheck

IT HASN’T FEATURED too prominently during this year’s election campaign, but the climate crisis has recently become more central to Ireland’s political agenda.

In advance of Saturday’s election, the country’s main political parties have all published policies about how they plan on tackling the crisis.

The problem is not just environmental: Ireland is already paying tens of millions of euro to avoid fines for breaching our annual limits for carbon emissions.

It’s also likely we’ll be forced to pay multi-billion euro fines if we continue to breach those limits by 2030, with drastic action needed to reduce our emissions by the end of the decade.

However, some have argued that Ireland shouldn’t be forced to pay for our emissions because the amount of carbon we produce is miniscule on a global scale.

One figure doing the rounds suggests that the rest of the world emits over 8 million times more carbon than Ireland. But is this true?

The Claim

Last week, an image posted on a Facebook page called ‘Election Ireland‘ claimed that Ireland’s carbon emissions are roughly 8.3 million times less than the those of the rest of the world.

It said:

Ireland is responsible for .000012% of the total world’s carbon emissions. Yes, almost zero.

Carbon emish Source: Facebook/Election Ireland

By the time of publication, the post has been shared more than 50o times on Facebook. But is the claim correct?

Context

Firstly, it’s important to point out that carbon emissions are an incredibly difficult thing to measure.

Simply put, there’s no accurate method of establishing exactly how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is emitted by each of the earth’s individual nations into the atmosphere every year.

Official figures are self-reported by countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and activities measured for CO2 emissions include electricity and heat production, road transportation, and domestic aviation.

At the moment, countries calculate their emissions by adding up figures supplied by the government and industries about how much fossil fuels they’ve used, as well as those from energy extraction.

But verifying whether each nation is giving accurate figures – or telling the truth – has always been an issue.

Some scientists have suggested that there could be up to a 10% margin of error in the figures provided by developed countries – and that this is even bigger for those provided by developing nations.

The figures used in this FactCheck therefore come with a slight health warning, although no more than those used by anyone else making claims about CO2 emissions.

The Evidence

There are multiple sources which measure how much carbon is emitted by Ireland and other countries every year.

However, not all of these provide figures for the rest of the world as well, which makes the task of contextualising Ireland’s emissions on a global scale more difficult.

For example, Eurostat – the official statistical office of the European Commission – provides figures for Ireland and the European Union up to 2018.

Their statistics state that Ireland emitted 38,373 kilotons of CO2 in 2017, the most recent year in which Eurostat’s figures were not marked as ‘estimated’.

This compared with 2,916,123 kilotons of CO2 emissions across the EU’s then 28 member states the same year, meaning that Ireland’s carbon output was 1.3% of that total, according to Eurostat.

Eurostat figs CO2 emissions (kt) of EU countries: 2009-2018 Source: Eurostat

But the agency doesn’t provide figures for the rest of the world, so their figures aren’t entirely useful for the purpose of this article.

Ireland and the world

However, there are sources which do record Ireland’s figures in a global context.

One of these, the World Bank, relies on figures provided to it by the now defunct Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC) in the US.

The organisation counted CO2 emissions by estimating fossil-fuel consumption and land-use changes, and by analysing records of CO2 and other trace gases in the atmosphere, the carbon cycle, and global and regional climate data.

The World Bank’s figures state that Ireland’s CO2 emissions in 2014 were 34,066 kilotons, part of global CO2 emissions totalling 36,138,285 kilotons the same year.

According to this data set, Ireland’s CO2 emissions were 0.094% of the world total in 2014 – or nearly 8,000 times higher than the 0.000012% figure claimed on Facebook.

For the purposes of cross-checking this figure, and because it’s difficult to accurately estimate the carbon output of any one country, we’ll also look at a second set of data: a European Commission report on the CO2 emissions of all countries from 2018.

The figures in this report are based on the commission’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), which estimates human-derived greenhouse gas emissions on a country-by-country basis every year.

It counts all human activities that emit CO2, except for the use of biomass in the power, industry, buildings, transport and agriculture sectors, large-scale biomass burning, and land use, land-use change and forestry.

According to this report, Ireland emitted 38,914 kilotons of CO2 in 2017, compared to global CO2 emissions that year of 37,100,000 kilotons.

Ireland emish Source: European Commission

That means that Ireland’s CO2 emissions that year were 0.1% of the world’s total, infinitesimally higher than the World Bank figure for 2014, but far more than the 0.000012% statistic claimed on Facebook.

Verdict

A social media post claimed that Ireland is responsible for just 0.000012% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Although scientists have difficulty pinpointing the exact amount of CO2 that every country emits, separate figures from the World Bank and the European Commission estimate that Ireland is responsible for around 0.1% of global emissions.

Therefore, our verdict for this claim is: FALSE

As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.  

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