Climate and Energy


Category Description

Climate change lies at the heart of some of the most pervasive and intractable environmental problems. Global energy and transport systems release heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere that warm the surface of the planet and degrade public health. Growing demand for food, commodities, and new development further shape spatial structures and landscapes in ways that alter the earth’s ability to reflect or absorb heat. These impacts, and others, are producing a strong cascade of effects that imperil existing social and economic structures and threaten the sustainability of our planet. Curtailing the effects of anthropogenic climate change will require immediate, concerted action by all countries at all scales.

Indicators Included

The Climate & Energy issue category uses five indicators to track a country’s progress in reducing three critical greenhouse gases and one climate pollutant. In adding non-CO2 indicators to the 2018 EPI, we have broadened the gauge of national climate change performance. We leverage new emissions inventories to construct a series of metrics intended to yield a more comprehensive assessment of a country’s overall performance.

We measure each country’s Climate & Energy score across the following five indicators:

  1. Carbon Dioxide – Total. This CO2 metric tracks trends on carbon intensity from the entire economy, in terms of metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per unit of GDP.
  2. Carbon Dioxide – Power Sector. This CO2 metric tracks trends on carbon intensity from the power sector, in terms of metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per unit of kWh of electricity and heat.
  3. Methane. Tracks trends in national emissions intensities of methane gas, reported in metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent per unit of GDP.
  4. Nitrous Oxide. Tracks trends in national emissions intensities of nitrous oxide emissions, reported in metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent per unit of GDP.
  5. Black Carbon. Tracks trends in national emissions intensities of black carbon emissions, reported in Gigagrams (Gg) of black carbon per unit of GDP.
Climate and Energy Indicators
Carbon dioxide - total kt CO2eq/B$
Carbon dioxide - power sector g CO2/kWh
Methane kt CO2eq/B$
Nitrous oxide kt CO2eq/B$
Black carbon kt CO2eq/B$

Category Overview

Scientists recognize that anthropogenic climate change represents a powerful driver of environmental degradation worldwide – impacting natural, economic, and social systems in all countries. Greenhouse (GHG) emissions are driving large, unprecedented changes in the atmosphere and global climate system (Christensen et al., 2013). Evidence of human impact on the natural environment include: warming in the lower atmosphere and ocean surface, declines in snow and ice masses, and increases in global sea level (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013b). Global average temperatures have increased at an average rate of 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 1800 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017). Recent warming trends have been more pronounced. Global average temperatures have increased at an average rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius (0.31 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 1970 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017)– see Figure 11–1. Without efforts to curtail anthropogenic emissions, Earth’s surface temperature is projected to exceed a preindustrial baseline by three degrees Celsius by the end of the century (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013a).

Figure 11-1
Figure 11–1. Annual global land and ocean temperature anomalies
Note: Temperatures in degrees Celsius.
Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2016.

Climate change must be understood as an inescapable international problem. Its impacts will affect the wellbeing and livelihoods of people everywhere. Addressing climate change thus requires nations to work together to implement policies, mobilize finance, and engage key stakeholders at all scales.

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement recognizes the magnitude of the climate challenge and embodies the urgency and spirit of collaboration required to combat it. One hundred and seventy of the 197 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have agreed to voluntarily reduce emissions, with the explicit goal of limiting global atmospheric warming to two degrees Celsius (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017). The voluntary, bottom-up structure of the Paris Agreement emerged in response to concerns over the binding, top-down emissions reductions targets that characterized the Kyoto Protocol and the failed Copenhagen Accord. Ratifying parties have agreed to work collectively toward the Agreement’s goals through a set of individual, country-defined mitigation targets, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Interventions for achieving reductions targets vary by country. Examples include: fuel switching; renewable energy portfolio standards; and adoption of sustainable agricultural practices that curtail carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from forest loss.

As countries begin to implement new climate policies, timely and targeted performance metrics become increasingly important. While the Paris Agreement represents a monumental first step in climate action, commitments may be inadequate in achieving the goals of the Agreement according to analyses of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. One study found that, if all nations were to meet their NDCs, average global temperatures would increase three degrees Celsius by 2100 (Rogelj et al., 2016). As reporting requirements under the Paris Agreement enter into effect, the environmental indicators benchmarked in the EPI may serve as a tool to assess and validate the efficacy of new interventions and policies in reducing domestic and global emissions.

The Paris Agreement’s call for urgent action stems from climate change’s potential to radically alter important environmental, social, and economic structures. While climate impacts will be more acute for some geographic regions, their effects have the potential to inflict damage at the global scale.

Environmental: Evidence of climate change can be observed through its impacts on Earth’s natural systems (Field et al., 2014). Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and global radiative forcing have already changed important environmental processes. Research suggests that we are encroaching on important Earth system thresholds for global climate, which, if crossed, could cause abrupt and irreversible systems changes to critical environmental processes (Rockström et al., 2009). Evidence of the climate system in disequilibrium includes sharp declines in arctic summer sea ice (Stroeve, Holland, Meier, Scambos, & Serreze, 2007), loss of polar ice sheets (Cazenave, 2006; Velicogna, 2009), changes in glacial mass and annual snowfall (Barnett, Adam, & Lettenmaier, 2005), and disruptions to precipitation and weather patterns (Field et al., 2014).

Changes in the complex interactions between Earth’s climate and core environmental processes have far-reaching implications for many ecosystems. Oceans, for example, absorb approximately 25% of human emissions (Rockström et al., 2009). At the ocean surface, carbon dioxide reacts with salt water and carbonate ions to increase ocean acidity, making it difficult for some living organisms to grow and survive (Field et al., 2014). Estimates indicate the current rate of acidification is at least 100 times faster than that of any other period in the past 200 million years (Rockström et al., 2009).

Rising greenhouse gas emissions also have far-reaching implications for terrestrial biodiversity. Climate-induced changes to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are impacting the geographic ranges and behaviors of many species (Field et al., 2014), often outpacing species’ abilities to adapt. Elevated rates of species loss suggest a sixth mass extinction may be under way (Barnosky et al., 2011; Thomas et al., 2004). Continued warming and environmental degradation may have irreversible consequences for the biotic environment and the ecosystem services it provides (Rockström et al., 2009).

Social: Social development and climate change must be seen as closely related. While most people will be forced to cope with changes to their natural landscapes, individuals in many developing countries may well shoulder a disproportionate share of climate-related damages (Mendelsohn, Dinar, & Williams, 2006). Failure to address these burdens will constrain development pathways and limit opportunities for social advancement. Climate-related natural disasters (Heltberg, Jorgensen, & Siegel, 2008)and widespread changes in regional climate may cancel out gains in development by threatening the health and livelihoods of subsistence communities, entrenching them in cycles of poverty (Heltberg, Jorgensen, & Siegel, 2008).

Climatic shifts threaten a wide range of crops, which could, in turn, jeopardize global food production (Field et al., 2014). Subsistence and smallholder farmers in emerging economies will feel impacts of climate change more acutely than others. Smallholder farmers make up a significant portion of the global agricultural system. They manage at least 400 million of the world’s 500 million small farms and provide over 80% of the food consumed in developing nations (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2013). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) studies reveal variability in precipitation patterns and above average temperatures adversely impact crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016). Climate sensitivity is further exacerbated by limitations in subsistence and smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacities to implement effective responses to sustained changes in regional climate, such as water management and improved crop varieties (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2016). Without sufficient adaptation measures, food security and viable employment opportunities in climate-sensitive regions will likely worsen.

Continued exposure to environmental shocks will it will likely incentivize people to leaves their homes en masse. Climate change seems likely to be already contributing to displacement and changes human migration patterns (Warner, Ehrhart, Sherbinin, Adamo, & Chai-Onn, 2009). In coming decades, flooding, more intense storms, drought, and gradual shifts in regional climate may force millions to leave their homes in search of viable livelihoods and security. In the climate-sensitive Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, increases in the severity of seasonal floods and land subsidence may put as many as 250 million people at risk by 2050 (Schiermeier, 2014). Continued tidal amplification from seal level rise could drive mass movement into urban centers in the coming decades as families seek new ways to cope with environmental risks (Warner et al., 2009).

Economic: Climate change poses myriad threats to the global economy. The costs of climate change are likely driven by alterations to hydrological systems, lower crop yields, species extinction, natural disasters, public health crises, increased conflict, and lowered economic productivity (Field et al., 2014).

Estimating and comparing the economic damages from climate change is also central to informed policy making. While modeling all damages from climate change is difficult, various integrated assessment models (IAMs) have attempted to evaluate impacts of increased emissions, rising population, and economic productivity – see Nordhaus, 1993 and Stern, 2007. Projections from these models, however, vary due to different assumptions, including differences in how market and non-market risks are quantified.

Climate change mitigation policies can deliver several co-benefits. Synergies between climate policies and other environmental or public health policies can produce a “double dividend” that benefits both environment and society. Reductions in methane emissions would decrease atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations while improving human health and crop yields (Bollen, Guay, Jamet, & Corfee-Morlot, 2009). Another policy scenario shows that a 50% cut in GHG emissions relative to 2005 levels could reduce the number of premature deaths between 20% and 40% in 2050 relative to a business-as-usual scenario (Bollen et al., 2009).

Global Impact

The severity of the global climate challenge requires a concerted response from the international community. Recent multilateral efforts suggest nations have neared consensus on the need to urgently address the issue and its related social and economic concerns.

The year 2015 was important for multilateral cooperation and international diplomacy. On September 25, 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global agenda that prioritizes inclusive, sustainable growth (United Nations General Assembly, 2015). On December 15, 2015, representatives from 195 countries adopted the Paris Climate Agreement, which entered into force on November 4, 2016 (United Nations, 2015). Ratifying parties agree to submit Nationally Determined Contributions, or individual pledges, to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emission by a set amount by 2030.

Given the nature of the scale and complexity of climate change, many SDGs directly or tangentially connect to the issue. Relevant goals include:

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

Goal 13: Climate action

Goal 14: Life below water

Goal 15: Life on land

Goal 16: Peace, justice, and strong institutions

International Organizations

Many international organizations work in the global climate space. Major players include the following:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): The IPCC is a scientific and intergovernmental body tasked with assessing the scientific, technical, and socio-economic aspects of climate change. The IPCC was formed in 1988 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013a). To date, the IPCC has published five assessment reports that review the latest climate science and assess impacts on the human and natural landscape. The most recent report was published in 2013.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): UNEP is a program of the United Nations. It is tasked with setting the global environmental agenda, promoting sustainable development, and serving as the global authority and advocate for the global environment. UNEP was founded on June 5, 1992 (United Nations, 1992). Its offices are based in Nairobi, Kenya.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO): The WMO is an intergovernmental organization with 191 active members. Its mandate is to serve as the authoritative voice of the United Nations on the “state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces, and the resulting distribution of water resources (World Meteorological Organization, 2015).

Multilateral Efforts

Multilateral efforts have engendered several conventions and agreements that facilitate global action on climate change. Significant outcomes include:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The UNFCCC entered into force on March 21, 1994 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2014a). To date, 197 countries have ratified the Convention. The UNFCC’s mission is to, “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (United Nations, 1992b).

Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC that commits Parties to meeting internationally binding emissions targets through market-based mechanisms (see United Nations, 1998). The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on February 16, 2005 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2014b). The treaty was the first international treaty charged with stabilizing global emissions.

Paris Agreement: The Paris Agreement is an international agreement that builds upon past efforts of the UNFCCC. The agreement outlines an international commitment to limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The architecture of the Paris Agreement deviates from previous international agreements, in that parties are permitted to submit their own Nationally Determined Contributions to global emissions reductions efforts. The Paris Agreement entered into force on November 4, 2016, 30 days after it was signed (United Nations, 2015).


High-quality and transparent GHG emissions data are necessary to inform sound policy decisions. In an ideal world, global GHG emissions inventories would provide detailed information for all sources of emissions across all sectors of an economy within all countries. Accurate, exhaustive, and precise data reduce uncertainty in emissions inventories. Reduced uncertainty allows scientists to generate more accurate estimates of GHG emissions, ultimately driving better-informed policymaking.

For over 20 years, the UNFCCC has required its members to regularly measure and report their GHG emissions using a standardized reporting framework developed by the IPCC (Rypdal et al., 2006). The IPCC framework offers countries the option to collect and report detailed GHG emissions data; however, few countries have the resources and internal capacity to do so. Most counties estimate their emissions based on a standardized process that allows them to report generally on anthropogenic emissions by source and removal by sinks.

Many organizations compile emissions data beyond the scope of the UNFCCC framework. The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) includes inventories for GHG and climate pollutants, such as black carbon. The 2018 EPI obtains data from several organizations that aggregate global emissions data – including EDGAR and World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (WRI-CAIT) data – to develop the best metrics for assessing environmental performance. Our data sources and methodology are explained in the Data Sources, Limitations, and Indicator Construction sections of this chapter.

Effective decisionmaking also hinges on an understanding of how factors outside of the energy sector, such as trade and land use change, impact the global greenhouse gas budget. An integrated, globalized economy complicates emissions accounting considerably. Consumer goods produced in one country are often exported to another, raising the question of whether responsibility for emissions should rest on the producing or consuming country. Solutions like technology-adjusted consumption-based accounting (TCBA) offer policymakers an alternative method that quantifies emissions embedded in the production and consumption of commodities, as well as technology differences between the alternative production it replaces. For more information on TCBA, please reference our TCBA pilot. Similarly, changes in land use change and forestry (LUCF) complicate global accounting methods. A significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions – 4% in 2010 ­– originate from the agriculture sector (Russell, 2014). Accounting for how these changes impact the carbon budget is difficult. Finally, rising emissions from the growing transportation sector indicate a need to improve monitoring and performance metrics. For more information on transportation emissions, please reference our Transportation pilot.

Box 11-1. Pilot Indicator: Technology-Adjusted Consumption-Based Accounting.

National greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting aims to assign proportionate responsibility for global GHG emissions to individual countries. Production-based accounting (PBA) and consumption-based accounting (CBA) are two widely applied GHG accounting methodologies. A recent advance in measuring GHG emissions is technology-adjusted consumption-based accounting (TCBA) (Kander, Jiborn, Moran, & Wiedmann, 2015, p. 431). TCBA is gaining international acceptance, and was incorporated into the most recent Sustainable Development Goals Index and Report (Sachs, Schmidt-Traub, Kroll, Durand-Delacre, & Teksoz, 2017, pp. 23–24). TCBA offers deeper insights than previous methods into the drivers of GHG emissions and addresses some of the limitations of PBA and CBA.

Historically, PBA has been widely used, but the limitations of PBA methods are well understood (Kander et al., 2015, p. 431; Sachs et al., 2017, p. 23). The Kyoto Protocol uses a PBA approach that assigns emissions to the country in which they were produced (Domingos, Zafrilla, & López, 2016, p. 729). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) rules apply a similar methodology (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 23). PBA, however, fails to capture some nuances of a globalized economy. PBA methodologies reward countries for importing rather than producing goods in every circumstance, even if the result is greater net emissions globally (Kander et al., 2015, p. 431). This loophole, called the leakage problem, enables countries to reduce their reported emissions by locating manufacturing processes in other countries (Kander et al., 2015, p. 431).

CBA methods prevent countries from avoiding responsibility for “outsourcing emissions-intensive sectors,” but they fail to incentivize some actions that reduce emissions (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 23). Unlike PBA, CBA attributes GHG emissions embodied in traded goods to the destination country (Domingos et al., 2016, p. 729). This improvement begins to capture the complexity of the globalized economy, but has an important limitation. The GHG emissions from producing a given good can vary widely from country to country, depending on a number of country-specific factors, such as differences in production technology (Kander et al., 2015, p. 433). Kander et al. (2015, p. 431)demonstrate that CBA does not reward countries for reducing carbon emissions associated with goods destined for export, because the embodied emissions from these goods are assigned to the destination country. Countries that produce goods with fewer embodied emissions can actually be penalized under a CBA system for trading with less efficient countries, ignoring the potential reductions in global emissions some of these trades can cause (Kander et al., 2015, p. 431).

TCBA methods correct for differences in the GHG intensity of each manufacturing sector between countries by treating exports and imports differently (Kander et al., 2015, p. 432). As proposed by Kander et al. (2015, pp. 431–432), TCBA adds a correction to the export emissions attributed to each country under the CBA methodology. Like CBA, TCBA “subtract[s] embodied emissions in exports,” but rather than removing emissions based on each country’s specific carbon efficiency, TCBA subtracts emissions based on the global “average carbon intensity” of production for each unit exported (Kander et al., 2015, p. 432). TCBA therefore considers global substitutes for each exported good in its methodology, avoiding penalizing countries with efficient export sectors, while still incentivizing countries to import “from carbon-efficient exporters” (Kander et al., 2015, p. 432; Sachs et al., 2017, p. 23). By treating the trade of an individual good as a contribution to net global emissions, rather than an isolated event occurring between only two countries, TCBA rewards trade that reduces global emissions (Kander et al., 2015, p. 432).

Measuring and attributing responsibility for GHG emissions at the country level is difficult. Over time, researchers have developed increasingly sophisticated measurement and accounting techniques. The downsides of such sophistication, however, are that the methodologies grow more complicated and data requirements increase (Sachs et al., 2017, p. 23). Accounting for the GHG emissions efficiency of every export sector in every country requires an enormous amount of information. As the underlying data that support TCBA become more complete, we anticipate its eventual incorporation into the EPI. The usefulness of TCBA will ultimately be measured by its penetration into the decisionmaking processes of the international community and national climate mitigation plans.

Indicator Background

As the need to reduce emissions intensifies, so will the demand for monitoring of all GHGs and their sources. While CO2 is the dominant contributor to global climate change by volume, policymakers must be mindful of other greenhouse gasses and climate pollutants. Recognizing the need to mitigate other significant contributors to climate change, the 2018 EPI has adapted its Climate & Energy score construction to include new indicators that assess national contributions to climate change from three additional warming agents: methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon. The change in score construction reflects improvements in the quality of non-CO2 emissions inventories and our commitment to sound reporting driven by the best available data.

Figure 11-2
Figure 11–2. Historic Atmospheric Concentrations of Select Greenhouse Gasses (0 AD to present).
Source: World Resources Institute, 2017.


Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide emissions are the single greatest driver of anthropogenic climate change, explaining approximately 78% of GHG- driven warming from 1970 to 2010 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). In 2016, the atmospheric CO2 concentration reached 403.3 parts per million (United Nations News Centre, 2017), the highest concentration in the last 800,000 years (Collins & Knutti, 2014).

Atmospheric CO2 does not readily degrade through chemical reactions. While close to half of emissions are exchanged with ocean or land sinks within a few decades, up to 40% of emissions are expected to persist in the atmosphere for longer than 1,000 years (Collins & Knutti, 2014). The accumulation of atmospheric CO2 is often described as a commitment from past emissions towards future climate change – or as the inertia of the climate system. This inertia means that historic anthropogenic CO2 emissions will account for a large proportion of climate change and that current emissions will impact the climate system long into the future (Collins & Knutti, 2014).

Country-level progress toward reducing CO2 intensity is an important measure of environmental performance. We characterize this trend by using two CO2 emissions indicators: (1) total emissions, excluding LUCF; and (2) emissions from electricity and heat production, the most CO2-intensive economic sector – see Figure 11–3 (International Energy Agency, 2016a). EPI includes both indicators to measure progress on CO2 mitigation both generally and within this important sector.

Figure 11-3
Figure 11–3. Global carbon dioxide emissions by sector.
Note: Emissions in gigatons of carbon dioxide.
Source: International Energy Agency, 2015, p.27.

Box 11-2. Pilot Indicator: Transportation Carbon Intensity.

GHG emissions from transportation are an important contributor to climate change. Transportation-related emissions accounted for over a quarter of the United States’ GHG emissions in 2015 (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017, p. ES-24), and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide in 2010 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014, p. 9)– see Figure 11–3. An additional concern is that while total greenhouse gas emissions in Europe fell by 22% between 1990 and 2015, emissions from transportation increased by 16% (European Environment Agency, 2017, p. 237).

Capturing these impacts in a useful, policy-relevant metric is challenging. Determining what to measure poses difficulties, while defining and gathering the appropriate data presents another issue.

Selecting an appropriate indicator is difficult due to conflicting ideas of what constitutes a carbon-efficient transport network. Carbon intensity for an entire economy is derived by dividing total CO2 emissions by the country’s GDP. For the transportation sector, GDP must be replaced by an appropriate statistic. Two commonly used statistics are passenger-kilometer traveled and tonne-kilometer traveled. A passenger- or tonne-kilometer is a single passenger or ton of cargo moved one kilometer. Emissions per passenger- or tonne-kilometer thus provide a way to measure the energy efficiency of transportation systems (United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013, p. 25). However, these metrics do not reward certain approaches to decreasing the climate impacts of transport. For example, dividing CO2 emissions by passenger- or tonne-kilometer does not capture efficiency improvements that a country might make by eliminating unnecessary transportation, such as by encouraging video-conferencing instead of using air travel to attend meetings (United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013, pp. 23, 25).

Developing the data needed to implement the metrics described above poses another set of difficult choices. The simplest approach would be to measure the total emissions from the transport sector and total passenger- and tonne- kilometers travelled, and then divide them to determine the overall GHG emissions per passenger- or tonne-kilometer. The World Bank uses data from the IEA to provide estimates of the fraction of total CO2 emissions from transportation by country (World Bank, 2017), and the International Transport Forum provides some estimates of passenger- and tonne-kilometers travelled by country (ITF, 2017, pp. 182–194). However, these datasets are incomplete, with the latter containing records for less than 60 countries. They also do not provide a method to allocate emissions to passenger versus freight transport, nor do they allow for more detailed analysis regarding the causes of transportation efficiency differences across countries.

More nuanced approaches address some of the limitations presented by the technique described above. CE Delft and the UK Government have developed methodologies that estimate emissions for individual companies, demonstrating two ways of measuring transportation carbon intensity more thoroughly (Otten, Hoen, & den Boer, 2017; United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013). CE Delft focuses on providing emissions factors, which estimate GHG and air pollution emissions per kilometer traveled for various types of vehicles that transport freight (Otten et al., 2017, pp. 9, 14, 22–34). The authors acknowledge that calculating the actual quantity of fuel burned would be more accurate than using emission factors (Otten et al., 2017, p. 9), but these factors could be useful for situations in which fuel burn data is unavailable or unreliable. Instead of focusing on emission factors, the UK government’s “Guidance on measuring and reporting GHG emissions from freight transport operations” proposes high-level questions that companies should consider when reporting transportation emissions (United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013). The topics of the questions include methods for allocating emissions to specific customers, choosing an appropriate emissions reduction target, and choosing the best intensity measures (United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013). While the scope of data collection required to fully implement these approaches is potentially infeasible on an international scale, the CE Delft and UK government methodologies reflect the complexity of this task and pose questions that must be addressed.

These examples illustrate significant efforts to develop ways to measure and compare the climate impacts of transportation. To develop metrics that allow useful comparisons between countries, future research will need to build from existing work in three main ways. First, the UK government provides some suggestions regarding how to address the limitations of emissions per passenger- or tonne-kilometer as a metric (United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 2013, p. 25), but globally-accepted standards are a prerequisite to making comparisons across countries. Second, the World Bank dataset excludes emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping (World Bank, 2017). Methods to measure and assign emissions from these sources must be developed to fully measure the climate impacts of travel. Global efforts to collect data and make appropriate estimates are the third and most significant piece required to develop a usable transportation carbon intensity measure for the EPI. While insufficient for inclusion in the EPI, data published by the World Bank and International Transport Forum and documentation provided by CE Delft and the UK government provide a blueprint for the work needed to develop transportation indicators.

Box 11-3. Energy efficiency in China.

Energy efficiency improvements in China are driving substantive reductions in global energy consumption statistics. China has decreased its total emissions and emissions intensity – see Figure 11–4. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Chinese efforts to reduce consumption were responsible for 22% of global energy intensity reductions in 2015 (International Energy Agency, 2016b). While several economic factors independent of national willingness to lower energy intensity help explain China’s significant efficiency gains, the country’s progress serves as an interesting case study demonstrating how high-emitting nations with large manufacturing sectors may begin to decouple CO2 emissions from economic growth.

Figure 11-4
Figure 11–4. Trend in carbon emissions and carbon emissions intensity.
Note: Carbon intensity is expressed in million tons of carbon dioxide per gross domestic product.
Source: World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool.


Most of China’s improvements in energy intensity may be traced back to political mandates directed at high energy consumers (International Energy Agency, 2016b). In 2006, the Chinese government launched its Top 1,000 Program, a four-year mandatory energy savings program for the largest 1,000 enterprises accounting for 33% of China’s total final energy consumption (International Energy Agency, 2016b; National Development and Reform Commission, 2006). Under the program, enterprises in nine industrial sectors (iron and steel, petroleum and petrochemicals, chemicals, electric power generation, non-ferrous metals, coal mining, construction materials, textiles, and pulp and paper) were instructed to reduce energy consumption by 100 million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce) from their expected consumption in 2010 over a four-year period (National Development and Reform Commission, 2006). Provincial and local governments worked with participants to negotiate targets, train staff, access national funds, and monitor and evaluate progress (Price, Wang, & Yun, 2010). The Top 1,000 program exceeded its original target by 50% and was expanded to cover the 10,000 largest enterprises, representing roughly two thirds of China’s energy consumption, in 2011 (International Energy Agency, 2016b; Lu et al., 2014).

According to IEA estimates, China must reduce its energy intensity by 4.7% per year to stay within the Paris Agreement’s two degree Celsius warming goal (International Energy Agency, 2016b). Growing concerns about air pollution and economic changes continue to drive substantial policy reform in China’s most energy-intensive sectors. China’s Five-Year Plans have been one of the most impactful actions to reduce GHG emissions any national government has made in the past ten years (X. Zhu, Bai, & Zhang, 2017). China’s current Five-Year Plan includes compulsory energy conservation policies, which may build on existing momentum generated from previous policies. In early 2017, the Chinese National Energy Administration (NEA) revealed details of its blueprint for the next five years. Targets include reducing energy intensity by 15% from 2015 levels by 2020 (People’s Republic of China, 2016). The government has outlined a cap for national coal consumption. It intends to lower coal primary energy consumption from 62% to 58% by 2020 (Tianjie, 2017). Transitioning the Chinese economy away from carbon-intensive fuels and practices will not be easy, but thus far, China has been a model for other transitioning economies.

Box 11-4. Forest degradation as a net CO2 source.

Forests play an important role in climate change, but until recently scientists have been unsure whether forests are net sources or sinks of carbon. The disagreement stems from two different modeling approaches. Top-down satellite-based models show forests as important carbon sinks. In contrast, bottom-up ecological studies find forests to be a net carbon emitter. A recent paper from the Woods Hole Research Center clarifies the role of forests in the global carbon cycle by matching satellite-based imagery with ecological field data. The study finds forests to be a net carbon emitter, with most emissions caused by the degradation and disturbance of forest land (Baccini et al., 2017).

Baccini et al. (2017) improve upon previous studies by measuring both changes in forest size and changes in the stored carbon of standing forests. The latter was not considered in previous top-down models, which apply remote sensing to track changes in forest cover over large geographic areas due to land use change. Many top-down models use net change in forest area as a proxy for carbon storage, and have largely ignored or underestimated losses or gains in carbon storage due to changes in forest density. Bottom-up direct sampling is better suited for measuring changes in forest density due to degradation and disturbance. Activities that degrade or distribute forests include selective logging, which reduces biomass but does not transform the forest into another land use.

Carbon losses from degradation and disturbance of forests are highly important to the role of forests in the global carbon cycle. Baccini et al. (2017)report that reductions in forest density due to degradation or disturbance contributes nearly 70% of carbon emissions from forests – more than double the emissions that result from land-use change. These losses are missing from previous top-down models, and their inclusion shows forests as a net source of atmospheric carbon. When managing forest land for climate change mitigation, policymakers should consider carefully the impacts of forest management and avoid forest degradation when possible.


Methane is the second-most abundant GHG in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled in the past 250 years due to human activity (Etheridge, Pearman, & Fraser, 1992; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). While methane has a short atmospheric lifespan – estimates typically range between 9 and 12 years – it is 34 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2 (Christensen et al., 2013; Hartmann et al., 2013; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007; Lelieveld, Crutzen, & Dentener, 1998). The IPCC estimates that methane is responsible for nearly 20% of anthropogenic global warming since 1750 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014).

Up to 60% of global CH4 emissions result from human activity (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). Most anthropogenic emissions come from agriculture, fossil fuel extraction and use, waste, and off-gassing from landfills (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). Emissions from livestock, such as ruminant animals, produce an estimated 7.1 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per year and make up 14.5% of global anthropogenic emissions (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013). Methane emissions from rice paddies and agriculture are also large contributors to global emissions (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). Emissions from fossil fuel development contribute between 132­ and 165 million tons of the 623 million tons of methane emitted each year (Nisbet et al., 2016).

Methane is also emitted from the natural environment. Wetlands are the largest single natural emissions source, contributing 217 Teragrams (Tg) of methane to the global budget annually (Ciais et al., 2013). Other important sources include biogeochemical cycles (54 Tg/year), freshwater ecosystems (40 Tg/year), wild animals (15 Tg/year) and termites (11 Tg/year) (Ciais et al., 2013). Rapid warming and future fossil fuel extraction of methane hydrates could release large quantities of methane from deposits in marine and permafrost sediments (Harden et al., 2012; Krey et al., 2009; Mascarelli, 2009). The IPCC estimates that between two and eight million Tg of methane are stored in ocean hydrates and less than 530,000 Tg are stored in permafrost hydrates (Ciais et al., 2013). However, scientific understanding of how climate change may impact the release of these stocks into the atmosphere is not widely understood (Ciais et al., 2013; Schuur et al., 2015).

Box 11-5. Changing cattle feed to reduce emissions from agriculture.

Revised bottom-up estimates of global livestock methane emissions, particularly from cattle, account for a sizable portion of the significant increase in observed methane emissions over the past decade (Nisbet et al., 2016). Several impacts of modern food production are thought to have influenced recent livestock emissions quantities, such as the proportion of animals in large feeding operations, animal body mass or productivity, and animal feed quality and quantity (Wolf, Asrar, & West, 2017). A recent study finds that emissions data from cattle and other ruminants – buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels – are 11% higher than previously estimated due to outdated emissions factors estimates (Wolf et al., 2017). As incomes rise in developing nations, so will the demand for animal products. Meat consumption in developing nations is expected to more than double by 2030 (Bruinsma & Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2003). Changing diets increase the need to address emissions from raising animals for food.

Large livestock, such as cattle, are substantial contributors to global methane emissions (Wolf et al., 2017). A recent study suggests that incorporating Asparagopsis taxiformis, a certain type of kelp, into a cow’s diet can significantly reduce methane emissions. Using an artificial cow’s stomach in a laboratory, researchers found that adding less than 2% dried seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced methane emissions from enteric fermentation (digestion) by 99% (Kinley et al., 2016).

While the results of introducing Asparagopsis taxiformis into cattle feed are promising, it cannot yet be considered a quick fix for reducing methane emissions. Production could prove to be a bottleneck for rapid implementation. For example, it would take 6,070 hectares (15,000 acres) of seaweed to supply kelp to feed just 10% of Australia’s 29 million cattle (Rupp, 2016). There are also environmental risks associated with adding seaweed to animal feed. Seaweed contains high concentrations of bromoform (Gribble, 2000). Bromoform is known to mix with ozone in the atmosphere to form bromine oxide radicals (BrO), which contribute to stratospheric ozone depletion (Carpenter & Liss, 2000). Innovative efforts such as the inclusion of kelp into animal feed represent the type of creative solutions required to address a growing environmental burden and demonstrate the need for future study (Patra, Park, Kim, & Yu, 2017).

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent, long-lived greenhouse gas. Its global warming potential (GWP) is 300 times higher than CO2 (Foster et al., 2007; United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). N2O’s long atmospheric lifespan of 121–141 years ensures today’s emissions will have a lasting impact on our climate system (Myhre et al., 2013). N2O also poses severe risks to the ozone layer, which warrant additional and immediate attention from the international community (Ravishankara, Daniel, & Portmann, 2009).

Human-induced disturbances in the nitrogen cycle have increased N2O emissions in recent years (Butterbach-Bahl, Baggs, Dannenmann, Kiese, & Zechmeister-Boltenstern, 2013; Pinder et al., 2012). Anthropogenic N2O sources – which now account for 40% of global N2O emissions – have risen steadily over the past two decades. Recent estimates place global emissions at 6.9 Tg of N2O per year – roughly eight times greater than pre-industrial estimates (Ciais et al., 2013). Major sources of anthropogenic N2O emissions are agricultural activities, fossil fuels and industry, and biomass burning, which account for 60%, 10%, and 10% of gross N2O, respectively (Ciais et al., 2013). 

UNEP estimates that moderate mitigation, when compared to a business-as-usual scenario, could reduce N2O emissions by 1.8 Tg in 2020. (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). The Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol initiates action on N2O emissions, but most abatement efforts are narrowly focused on emissions mitigation in the industrial sector (Schneider, Lazarus, & Kollmuss, 2010). Countries can reduce emissions and meet their climate goals by expanding efforts to address agriculture and other high-emitting sectors. Improving nitrogen use efficiency and reducing meat consumption, food waste, and food loss are all viable mitigation options (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013).

As with many environmental challenges, developing nations are often constrained in their ability to effectively address problems. Barriers to N2O reduction efforts include the high capital costs of abatement technologies, lack of training and technology transfer on abatement techniques, and knowledge gaps in site-specific or situational mitigation options (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). Potential mitigation policies to address these barriers could involve removing subsidies that encourage misuse or overuse of nitrogen fertilizer, putting a price on nitrogen, increasing support for good management practice for farmers, and setting clear targets for emission reductions (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013).

Box 11-6. Nitrous oxides from Arctic peatlands.

Permafrost soils in the arctic are large nitrogen reservoirs. Historically, arctic peatlands have not been a significant source of N2O, but a warming planet may change that. Land areas in the Arctic are expected to warm 5.6–12.4 degrees Celsius (Christensen et al., 2013). Continued warming will thaw permafrost soils and produce N2O (Butterbach-Bahl et al., 2013). Approximately 40% of the Arctic has a high probability of releasing N2O (Voigt et al., 2017). One conservative estimate places the stored mass of nitrogen in deep permafrost soil at 67 billion tons, nearly 500 times the global annual nitrogen load added to soil as fertilizer (Bouwman et al., 2013; Harden et al., 2012; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013b). Rapid release of N2O and, other warming gasses stored in permafrost soils, have the potential to further drive atmospheric warming, weakening or reversing the impacts of successful mitigation policy.

Photo 11-1
Photograph 11–1. Thawing permafrost in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
Note: Location: Bettles, Alaska, United States of America.
Source: United States National Park Service Climate Change Response, 2014.


Thawing permafrost also has implications for local environments. Continued thawing is likely to have widespread impacts on arctic hydrology and geology (Frey & McClelland, 2009). Research from the Northwest Territories Geological Survey indicates that permafrost collapse causes landslides into rivers that can impact downstream watersheds (Kokelj et al., 2013). Another study found that thawing produced increased suspended sediment concentrations in Arctic streams and waterways (Kokelj et al., 2013). Accelerated thawing also places additional stress on biological communities in lakes, threatening aquatic ecosystems (Thienpont et al., 2013).

Limited knowledge of complicated climate feedback loops lowers the degree of confidence with which scientists can predict the volume, timing, and likelihood of N2O release from permafrost peatlands (Ciais et al., 2013). However, policymakers should be aware of the potential for thawing-induced N2O emissions from Arctic peatlands, and how the emissions may factor into the global N2O budget in the future. 

Black Carbon

Black carbon is a short-lived, light-absorbing component of particulate matter produced through incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass (United Nations Environment Programme & World Meteorological Organization, 2011). Black carbon was excluded from the Kyoto Protocol due to uncertainties about its net impact on global climate change (Levitsky, 2011), but recent studies show black carbon to be a potent, heat-trapping pollutant (Bond et al., 2013). Black carbon’s global warming potential is 900 times that of carbon dioxide, and its emissions may be responsible for up to 30% of warming in the Arctic (Bond et al., 2013; Shindell & Faluvegi, 2009). Black carbon also contributes substantially to poor air quality. Efforts to address black carbon emissions thus have the potential to deliver co-benefits for climate, air quality, and public health (Wang et al., 2014).

Black carbon influences the climate system in two ways: first, by altering radiative properties in the atmosphere, and second, by increasing surface albedo (reflectivity). In the atmosphere, black carbon particles trap heat and contribute to warming (Bond et al., 2013). While recent estimates of black carbon’s direct influence on the atmosphere indicate that it has a warming effect much greater than previously thought, researchers are still trying to understand black carbon’s indirect effects through interactions with other gasses (Bond et al., 2013). Like all aerosols, black carbon has a short residence time. After a period of days to weeks, black carbon will eventually settle on earth’s surface. When deposited on snow or ice, black carbon accelerates melting by altering surface albedo and increasing heat absorption (Levitsky, 2011; Ramanathan & Carmichael, 2008). Mitigating black carbon emissions could thus lower the amount of soot deposited on climate-sensitive regions, like the Arctic. 

Black carbon emissions have strong local impacts. Atmospheric transport consolidates black carbon in regional hotspots, where they influence local climate systems (Levitsky, 2011). Atmospheric heating and dimming from black carbon contributed to a 50-year decline in precipitation patterns in Africa, South Asia, and Northern China (Bond et al., 2013). Emissions deposited on Himalayan glaciers impact the intensity and distribution of seasonal monsoons (Turner & Annamalai, 2012). One billion people rely on seasonal precipitation patterns for their livelihoods in South Asia; disturbances in quantity and distribution of regional water supply have the potential to threaten the delicate food-water nexus (Turner & Annamalai, 2012).

Black carbon’s significant contribution to radiative forcing and its short lifespan present unique opportunities for coordinated efforts to mitigate warming trends in the near-term (United Nations Environment Programme & World Meteorological Organization, 2011). Global emissions have increased from 5.3 Tg of black carbon in 1960 to 9.1 Tg in 2007, signifying a growing global appetite for energy due to population growth and rising incomes (Wang et al., 2014). Overall emissions intensity, measured as the amount of black carbon emitted per unit of energy, however, has declined substantially since 1960, largely due to efficiency and technology improvements in the energy and transport sectors (Wang et al., 2014). Black carbon emissions intensities have declined without concerted policy incentives for abatement. However, political action aimed at reducing black carbon emissions could be an effective tool for climate change mitigation.

The international community now recognizes black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants as a component of global climate mitigation. On May 27, 2016, leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) issued a declaration that recognized the importance of reducing emissions of black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to slow warming in the near-term (Group of Seven, 2016). Many nations outside of the G7 also recognize the importance of mitigating black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants and have included them in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – see Box 11–7.

Box 11-7. Mexico’s INDC: A black carbon emphasis.

Mexico’s INDC to the Paris Climate Agreement sets explicit targets for black carbon emissions (Government of Mexico, 2016). These political priorities are mirrored in its national policies. Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change (LGCC) requires the government to prioritize low-cost actions with high mitigation potential that also deliver co-benefits for public health and wellness (Government of Mexico, 2014). The government plans to meet the obligations of the LGCC and Paris Agreement, in part, by reducing black carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 from a baseline business-as-usual scenario that begins in 2013 (Government of Mexico, 2016). If achieved, the reduction would translate to a 3% decrease in national emissions of CO2-equivalent (Government of Mexico, 2014, 2016).

Mexico plans to reduce black carbon emissions by incentivizing more efficient technologies and fuel-switching in high-emitting sectors (Government of Mexico, 2014). Mexico’s National Strategy on Climate Change and the Special Climate Change Program outline a path of action for reducing emissions in the oil and gas, energy, agricultural, and residential sectors – specific lines of action for these industries are detailed in Table 11–1.

Mexico currently ranks 107th out of 180 countries in black carbon intensity. If it succeeds in meeting its INDC, it could serve as an example for similar countries seeking to address black carbon emissions within their own borders.

Table 11–1. Summary of black carbon mitigation strategies.
Source: Hererra, 2015; Government of Mexico, 2015, 2014, 2013.
Industry Solutions
Energy and Industry
  • Substitute coke fuel, fuel oil, and diesel with natural gas, clean energy, and biomass in medium-to-large-scale industries
  • Control black carbon emissions in industrial equipment though installation of filtration technologies and promotion of efficient processes in medium-to-large-scale industry
  • Promote productive reconversion, technological change, and energy efficiency in key micro- and small-scale industries, e.g., brick making
  • Better monitoring of power sector emissions
  • Harmonize North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) regulations for new and existing vehicles and locomotives
  • Increase the availability and consumption of ultra-low sulfur fuel
  • Encourage the use of particle filters in internal combustion engines
  • Deploy at least 1 million new vehicles by the end of 2018
  • Reduce used vehicle imports
  • Implement clean transportation systems in freight corridors
  • Implement low-carbon urban public transportation corridors powered by natural gas
  • Reduce the practice of burning sugar cane with other green crops in agricultural sectors
  • Replace traditional open stoves with fuel-efficient, wood-saving stoves in poor and marginalized communities

Data Sources

The 2018 EPI uses emissions data from three sources: The WRI’s CAIT database, the IEA, and the European Commission Join Research Center and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency’s EDGAR database.


We source data for the CO2 (total), CH4, and N2O indicators from the WRI’s CAIT. CAIT compiles data from peer-reviewed and internationally recognized greenhouse gas inventories and other government agencies. CAIT data are available at CAIT data also include estimates of emissions and sinks associated with land use and forestry activities, which come from global estimates compiled by the FAO.

CAIT provides country-level coverage for the indicator CO2 emissions (total) for the 186 members of the UNFCCC over the period 1850–2014 (World Resources Institute, 2015). The dataset compiles emissions data from three widely-cited CO2 emission accounting sources: the IEA, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The total CO2 emissions reported for each country are the aggregate emissions from two sources: fossil fuels and cement manufacture, which represent the bulk of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Due to uncertainties in the underlying data, we do not use estimates that include fluxes from LUCF.

CAIT also estimates country-level coverage of emissions estimates for total CH4 and N2O for 188 countries for the years 1990–2014. CAIT draws Emissions estimates from two sources: a 2012 United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) report detailing historic and projected non-CO2 emissions data from 1990–2030 in five-year intervals, and a 2014 FAO report detailing land-use and agriculture emissions data from 1990–2012 (World Resources Institute, 2015). Data are linearly interpolated between reported EPA values to provide country, gas, and sector estimates, all expressed in CO2-equivalents using 100-year GWP values (World Resources Institute, 2015).


We source data on CO2 from electricity and heat production from the IEA. The IEA tracks emissions from fossil fuel combustion for more than 150 reporting countries and regions, covering the years 1971–2014. The IEA reports data in grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh), a measure of energy intensity. The IEA’s calculation involves multiplying the amount of fuel burned in a power plant by an emission factor. These emissions are summed across all fuels and plants in a country to produce an annual total amount of emissions.


EDGAR is a joint project of the European Commission Join Research Center and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. EDGAR calculates estimates for black carbon using energy balance statistics from the IEA. The most recent data release, EDGAR v4.3.1, evaluates black carbon emissions from a variety of sectors ranging from open burning to manufacturing. Emissions data are estimated for years 1970–2010 and are reported in Gigagrams (Gg) of black carbon.


Much of our underlying data are subject to the limitations of existing GHG inventories. These inventories develop their emissions estimates by multiplying “activity” data, e.g., the amount of a certain type of fuel consumed using a given technology, by a corresponding emissions factor, or the amount of GHG released per unit of activity. One important limitation is the shortage of country and sector-specific emissions factors required for highly accurate emissions estimates. The WRI-CAIT tool relies on standardized emissions factors (World Resources Institute, 2015). The IEA employs a similar system. Standardized emissions factors mask variations across individual sites both within and between countries. Uncertainties are higher for non-CO2 gases. For example, inventories tracking black carbon emissions often have high degrees of uncertainty due to the large volume of data required to compute them, the variability between them, and existing limitations in the applicability of emissions derived from trends in developed nations to developing nations (Wang et al., 2014).

Another limitation to existing GHG inventories concerns the accuracy of reported data. Many nations lack the technology, internal capacity, and resources to monitor GHG sources and sinks effectively. Improper data collection and assessment methods can produce discrepancies between reported and actual emissions. Missing data also complicate the assessment of country-level performance. Some countries do not have data available for some of the source categories required by each indicator. In some cases, it is difficult to discern whether a data gap exists or whether the emissions estimate is zero (World Resources Institute, 2015, pp. 14–15). To overcome these gaps, WRI and other organizations use gap-filling methods that produce additional challenges in trend analysis. Gap filling can introduce additional uncertainty, as the data reported for each source are not necessarily equivalent.

Indicator Construction

The 2018 EPI evaluates national performance using GHG emissions intensity trends. Mitigating GHG emissions – and meeting international goals for climate change – will require decoupling emissions from economic growth. This is most clearly measured by standardizing a country’s emissions. In the cases of total CO2, NH4, N2O, and black carbon, this is derived from dividing emissions by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the case of the CO2 from the power sector, CO2 emissions are divided by kWh of electricity and heat. These measures of emissions intensity allow for cross-country comparisons, putting all countries, large and small, on a common scale. Single-year measures of emissions intensity, however, can be misleading due to the vicissitudes of a country’s economy. Recessions and commodity price fluctuations have the potential to influence emissions intensity through both the GHG emissions and GDP. A more typical representation of a country’s emissions intensity can be obtained by averaging observations over several years. Better still is to calculate a trend in emissions intensity over time, as this metric captures each country’s progress in decoupling GHG emissions from economic activity. Ten-year emissions intensity trends are the organizing framework of the EPI GHG indicator construction.

Decoupling GHG emissions from economic growth often proves to be a difficult feat, and countries vary in their ability to promote lower emissions intensities. Wealthy countries may be positioned to lower GHG emissions as they transition to post-industrial, service-based economies. Developing nations are also poised to act, but many must find new, creative solutions that address conflicting priorities in tandem with GHG emissions. Potential conflicts include: investing in mitigation, population growth, rising consumption, industrialization, and financial constraints. As in previous versions of the EPI, we attempt to control for these differences by comparing each country to their economic peers. We operate from the assumption that countries at similar levels of economic development will have roughly equal opportunities and capacities for decoupling.

Accounting for differences in the economic development of countries requires constructing an appropriate measure of the typical GHG intensity trend for each income group. The EPI does this by comparing the trend in every country against its wealth, measured in GDP per capita. The line in Figure 11–5 represents an average level of performance across the range of observations. Following from the logic that richer countries find it easier to decouple emissions from economic growth, the line slopes downward. Each country’s performance can then be compared to this typical line. Countries with emissions intensities below the line are rewarded for beating expectations, while countries above the line a penalized. The indicators used in the EPI are therefore trends in GHG emissions intensity relative to peers.

Figure 11-5
Figure 11–5. Relationship between trend in CO2 intensity and GDP per capita. Dotted line represents average decadal trend in CO2 intensity (2004–2014) at any given level of country wealth.
Note: Carbon dioxide intensity expressed as carbon dioxide emissions per US$ 100,000 (log scale).
Source: World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, 2015.


To accurately reflect the efforts of top performers in the Climate & Energy category, we adjust the weighting within the indicator. Some countries have significantly decoupled emissions and economic growth in the past, so that their current performance approaches the lower limit of emissions intensity. Norway has so successfully decarbonized their power sector that their trend is flat rather than declining – see Figure 11–6. An indicator score constructed on the basis of this flat trend would be poor, while an indicator constructed on the bases of a single-year GHG emissions intensity would be excellent. In these cases, the EPI places a large amount of weight on the single-year indicator, in order to reflect the past policy commitments of countries towards reducing emissions. More complete descriptions of the construction of the Climate & Energy indicators can be found in the Technical Appendix.

Figure 11-6

Figure 11–6. Trends in CO2 emissions intensity for the Bahamas, Seychelles, and Norway from 2004–2014.
Note: Emissions intensity expressed in Kilotons of CO2 per billion US$.
Source: World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, 2015.



Global Trends

We find that global CO2 intensity trends are improving – see Figure 11–5. We also observe emissions intensity reductions for methane, nitrous oxide and black carbon. These improvements show signs of global decarbonization, i.e. emissions are leveling off or declining relative to GDP. Emissions intensities for CO2, which accounts for 72% of global GHG emissions, have decreased relative to their respective baselines. The reductions in emissions intensities have resulted in a 5.8-point and 1.6-point increase in total and power sector emissions scores, respectively. Non-CO2 GHG emissions intensities have also decreased relative to their baselines – see Table 11–2.

Table 11–2. Global trends in Climate & Energy
Note: Metrics are expressed in emissions intensities. Total CO2, NH4, N2O and Black Carbon are expressed in either kt of CO2 or CO2 equivalent per billion $US. Power sector CO2 emissions are expressed in g CO2 per kWh. Current refers to the most recently available data, and Baseline refers to historic data approximately ten years previous to Current.
Indicator Metric Score
  Baseline Current Baseline Current
CO2 Emissions (Total) 363.8 320.2 25.5 31.3
CO2 Emissions (Power) 506.2 492.7 40.8 42.4
NH4 Emissions 93.5 71.9 58.2 64.6
N2O Emissions 38.4 29.3 52.6 58.3
Black Carbon Emissions 64.3 52.6 20.4 29.1

Our results support global decarbonization trends. In 2016, GHG emissions, excluding land use change and forestry, increased by 0.5% – the slowest rate of increase since the early 1990s (Olivier, Schure, & Peters, 2017, p. 8). Dynamic shifts in global emissions trends are the result of several factors including replacement of coal by natural gas and increases in modern renewable power generation, such as wind and solar energy (Olivier et al., 2017, p. 8). Recent decarbonization efforts in large economies have driven substantial changes in emissions trends over the past five years (Olivier et al., 2017, p. 15). China’s efforts to modernize its energy sector and combat air pollution, coupled with investment trends in modern renewable energy, will continue to transform the global energy system well into the future (International Energy Agency, 2017, pp. 2–4). However, our data show that in most countries where emissions intensities are decreasing, total emissions are still increasing – see Figure 11–6. Similarly, evidence suggests that non-GHG emissions are increasing due to a slowing in the growth rate of global CO2 emissions since 2013, underscoring the need to focus more attention on curtailing emissions across a diversity of sectors (Olivier et al., 2017, p. 9).

Figure 11-7
Figure 11–7. Trend in carbon emissions and carbon intensity.
Note: Carbon intensity expressed in kilotons of CO2 per US$ billion.
Source: World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, 2015.


Leaders & Laggards

Our results reveal a new group of global leaders in the Climate & Energy category – see Table 11–3. The Republic of Seychelles makes an impressive leap in the global rakings from its 179th baseline position to first place. Switzerland (+13 places) and Sweden (+1) round out the top three countries. Other leaders make impressive leaps in their rank from their baselines. Taiwan jumped eight places to number four, while Turkmenistan (+153), Uruguay (+110), Laos (+92), Myanmar (+1), and Slovakia (+17) also improved their global standing.

Table 11-3. Leaders in Climate & Energy.
Rank Country Score
1 Seychelles 93.25
2 Switzerland 90.55
3 Sweden 86.80
4 Taiwan 82.23
5 Turkmenistan 81.39
6 Uruguay 79.01
7 Laos 77.39
8 Myanmar 76.26
9 Slovakia 74.21
10 Nigeria 73.85

The Republic of Seychelles’ rise in the global Climate & Energy issue category is a result of new policy choices that place climate change at the center of its development strategy. Seychelles is a net sink for global greenhouse gas emissions (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). The government has integrated decarbonization more purposefully into its actions than most small states (International Monetary Fund, 2017, p. 6). The 2009 Seychelles National Climate Strategy prioritizes greenhouse gas reductions through diversification of its energy portfolio, modernization of its energy legislation, and monitoring and sharing of energy data (Seychelles National Climate Change Committee, 2009, pp. 80–81). Subsequent policies, such as the 2010–2030 Seychelles Energy Policy outline a core vision for energy sector development and further reinforce Seychelles’ commitment to low-carbon development (International Energy Agency, 2018).

As a party to the UNFCCC and signatory of the Paris Agreement, Seychelles has committed to reducing absolute, economy-wide emissions 21.4% by 2025 and 29.0% by 2030, relative to baseline emissions (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). Seychelles will meet its future emissions reductions targets by switching to renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and increasing the size of its electric vehicle fleet (International Monetary Fund, 2017, p. 6; Republic of Seychelles, 2015). In 2017, the Institute for Environmental Analytics partnered with the Government of Seychelles to develop an energy planning tool to help small islands transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy (Institute for Environmental Analytics, 2017; United Kingdom Space Agency, 2017). If implemented in concert with innovative financial instruments and regulatory changes, Seychelles may be in a better position to realize greater implementation of low-carbon energy solutions.

Sweden – ranked 3rd – remains a leader in the Climate & Energy issue category, holding its place in the top five. Sweden has a long record of strong climate policy. In 1991, Sweden adopted The Carbon Tax Act, which introduced a tax of $US 120/ton of CO2 on coal, oil, natural gas, petrol, and domestic aviation fuel (Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 2013). Since then, the Swedish government has adopted several laws and policies to meet domestic and European Union (EU) climate goals. Sweden’s most recent climate policy, which entered into force in January 2018, seeks to achieve zero net emissions by 2045 and negative emissions shortly thereafter (Government of Sweden, 2017, 2018).

Uruguay (ranked 6th) has also emerged as a climate leader, blazing a path for a clean energy transition (Watts, 2015). Modern renewable energy is driving a large shift in Uruguay’s energy system. According to 2015 data, Uruguay generates 95% of its electricity from renewable energy (Z. Zhu, 2017). For the past two decades, Uruguay has not expanded its hydroelectric capacity; meanwhile, it has increased its wind capacity increased from almost 0% in 2007 to over 20% in 2015 (Thwaites, 2016). Investment in modern renewable resources is largely a result of efforts to address national energy security concerns and meet national climate goals (Z. Zhu, 2017). Uruguay’s National Energy Policy, adopted in 2010, outlines a series of short, medium, and long-term climate and energy goals (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2015, p. 3). To drive further renewable energy deployment, the government has prioritized auctions and feed-in tariffs to incentivize investment in biomass and modern renewable energy through much of the electricity sector (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2015, p. 3).

Many laggards in the Climate & Energy category face unique challenges in their energy transition ranging from poverty and spatial constraints to political instability – see Table 11–4. Four of the bottom ten countries – Mozambique, Central African Republic, Madagascar, and Burundi – are least developed countries (LDCs) (United Nations Committee for Development Policy, 2017). Conflicting priorities, like low rates of access to modern energy, complicate development efforts. Despite growth in the power sector within most LDCs, 62% of people living in LDCs do not have access to electricity (United Nations, 2017, p. 4). Implementation of small-scale, high impact policies that prioritize distributed or off-grid solar power generation could offer a way for LDCs to meet their energy access and climate goals (Brookings Insitution, 2017, p. 80).

Table 11-4. Laggards in Climate & Energy
Rank Country Score
171 Mozambique 23.49
172 Grenada 21.67
173 Iraq 19.73
174 Bahamas 18.76
175 Central African Republic 17.55
176 Madagascar 16.23
177 Burundi 16.18
178 Libya 11.87
179 Antigua and Barbuda 11.26
180 Niger 6.36

Libya – ranked 178th – has a very high resource potential for low-carbon energy solutions, like solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power, yet its ongoing civil war and high fossil fuel subsidies have stunted efforts to decarbonize its economy. It is estimated that if Libya designated 0.1% of its land to solar energy production, it could produce the equivalent of 7 million barrels of oil per day, nearly five times the daily amount of energy it produced from oil in 2012 (Bridle, Kiston, & Wooders, 2014, p. 10; Mohamed, Al-Habaibeh, & Abdo, 2013). In 2007, the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy established the Renewable Energy Authority of Libya (REAoL) and assigned it the task of developing and implementing plans for both renewable energy and energy efficiency (Nachmany et al., 2016, p. 3). According to a 2015 climate legislation survey, Libya intends to meet 10% of energy needs from renewable energy by 2030 (Nachmany et al., 2016, p. 4). Despite modest advances, Libyan progress remains hampered by political unrest. Electric transmission lines and supporting infrastructure have suffered interruption and physical damage from fighting (Fasanotti, 2016). Underpricing of energy from fossil fuel subsidies in Libya, and much of the world, also encourage wasteful use of energy and discourage the development of renewable resources (Bridle et al., 2014, p. 11). To meet its clean energy target, Libya will need to focus future attention on developing a strong legal and regulatory framework to support renewable energy and energy efficiency, while simultaneously addressing inefficacies that result from its existing subsidies.

Antigua and Barbuda’s low score – ranked 179th – reveals the unique challenges small islands and developing states (SIDS) face in lowering their GHG emissions. Limited access to energy resources, manufacturing and transportation, lack of power generation capacity, outdated power generation infrastructure, and inefficient electrical grids create a dependence on inefficient and expensive forms of power generation that exacerbate energy security challenges (Dornan & Shah, 2016, p. 650). Until recently, Antigua and Barbuda satisfied 99.99% of its energy generation needs from mostly foreign petroleum (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015, pp. 1–2). Renewable energy may help Antigua and Barbuda transition away from carbon-heavy fossil fuels. As with many SIDS, Antigua and Barbuda has significant renewable energy and energy efficiency potential (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015, p. 3). Recognizing the many benefits of a low carbon energy system, the government has established a series of ambitious renewable energy targets and implemented several policy reforms to incentivize renewable power generation and energy efficiency (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2016b). Prior to the 2017 hurricane season, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found Antigua and Barbuda was in a strong position to develop renewable energy. Thus far, the government has already met its national target of 15% installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2016a). Action plans, new policies, and tariff structures could further incentivize investment and drive large-scale changes in high-emitting sectors of Antigua and Barbuda’s economy. Such progress could potentially translate into elevated scores on future iterations of the EPI.

Despite improvements in emissions intensity trends over the past decade, leader and laggard trends indicate countries still have much work to do if they are to meet existing energy and climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario – a pathway to achieving climate stabilization, cleaner air, and universal access to modern energy – finds low carbon sources must double their share in the energy mix – to 40% – by 2040 (International Energy Agency, 2017, p. 7). The Sustainable Development Scenario also finds that countries must pursue all available avenues of energy efficiency, while decreasing demand for coal and oil resources (p. 7). To satisfy the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, countries must continue to test and implement new policy and market frameworks that leverage the numerous interconnections across different sectors and dimensions of sustainable development. Policy and regulatory shifts, coupled with significant increases in investment, will thus be essential to realizing the changes in global scores required to drive significant, long-lasting change.


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