Relative carbon emissions is a hotly contested issue among nations as they jockey for position. Each nation attempts to minimize its responsibility for reducing their own pollution as compared to other nations. It is a variant of the “free rider” syndrome. Everyone wants someone else to pay the steep price of trying to constrain climate chaos so that they can keep their industrial-consumer “lifestyles” going.
The problem with industrial-consumer economies, however, is that they have already overshot the Earth System’s capacity to sustain them. Even more important, They have already seriously disrupted all the major stable elements of the Earth System that has sustained them until now. Societal collapse will follow global food-shortage events resulting from loss of crops in multiple sites around the world.
Some nations started to pollute the planet much earlier than others. Some have contributed very little to global warming since they have not industrialized or are just beginning to join the fossil-fueled industrial era, just when it is about to collapse. Naturally, the earliest nations to industrialize have caused the most pollution over the 200 years of the industrial interlude in human history.
Great Britain (the UK) was first to industrialize and thus produced the most CO2 in the early years of the industrial era. Then around 1912, the much larger U.S. surged ahead. The UK has now fallen to 5th place in cumulative CO2 emissions. After all, it is a much smaller nation than most others and has little room left to grow.
China was way down the list until its recent surge of industrialization. But now, mostly because of its size and rapid industrial grown it is in second place behind the U.S. with slightly more than half as much total carbon emissions since 1750.
The animation below, by Carbon Brief, shows the cumulative carbon emissions of various nations since 1750, which approximates the beginning of the industrial revolution. The USSR was never very good at industrializing for mostly political reasons yet because of starting earlier it is close behind China in cumulative emissions.