Fact Check: Claim that US is solely responsible for climate change is false

CArbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide emissions have been mainly blamed for being the leading contributor to global warming and climate change.

Photo credit: AFP

Carbon dioxide emissions have been mainly blamed for being the leading contributor to global warming and climate change.

The rise in carbon dioxide levels began during the industrial revolution, when, according to the National Geographic Society, the world was transitioning from “creating goods by hand to using machines.

The revolution was mainly driven by rich countries that fueled their economic success by relying heavily on fossil fuels.

This is why these countries have been blamed for being the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, and leading contributors to global warming, says the Union of Concerned scientists.

In a bid to determine the largest contributor, some social media users have however falsely laid the blame on the United States alone, claiming that it is the only country that is responsible for climate change.

On March 20,2023, a twitter user posted: “Why is the U.S. the only country that is responsible for 'climate change'? Why does the rest of the planet get a pass?

Probably because environmentalists' goal is the destruction of the US and not improving the environment. Go Made in China!!!”

This claim is false, as science has shown that all countries share the blame for carbon dioxide emissions, some more than others.
According to the World Population Review, the United States is the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to 2019 data.

Out of the top ten biggest emitters, China leads with 9,877 million metric tons, followed by the United States with 4,745 million metric tons. India comes third with 2,310, followed by Russia with 1,640 and Japan with 1,056 million metric tonnes. 

Germany is fifth with 644 million metric tonnes, followed by South Korea with 586, Iran with 583, Canada with 571 and Saudi Arabia with 495 metric tonnes.

As far as the United States is concerned, their sources of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 are broken down into transportation (27 percent), electricity generation (25 per cent), industry (24 percent), agriculture11 percent), commercial (seven percent) and residential (six percent), others (eight percent).

The same year, methane emissions were caused by Natural Gas and Petroleum Production (32 percent), Enteric Fermentation (animal flatulence-27 percent), Landfills (decay of organic matter-  17 percent), Manure Management (nine percent), Coal Mining (six percent) and others (nine percent).

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, United States is the leading emitter of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and cement considering the period between 1750 and 2020.

United States leads with 416,738 million metric tonnes, followed by China (235,527) Russia (115,335) Germany (92,636) United Kingdom (78,161), Japan (65,617) India (54,423) and France with 38,729 million metric tonnes.

Both in terms of cumulative emissions, and current per capita emissions, richer countries rank high. Conversely, low- and middle-income countries have lower cumulative historical emissions and per capita emissions.  Even within countries, it is the relatively rich that are most responsible for a majority of carbon emissions,” says the union.

It adds: “The rankings change when we account for the population of each country (ie, per capita emissions), or when we change the time frame. However, developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while some developing countries lead in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions. These uneven contributions to the climate crisis are at the core of the challenges the world community faces in finding effective and equitable solutions to global warming.”
This claim is therefore false.
[email protected]
This fact check was produced by Nation with support from Code for Africa's Pesa Check, the International Fact-Checking Network and the African Fact-Checking Alliance Network.