Data concerning a country’s direct CO2 emissions, imported CO2 emissions and per capita emissions provides a comprehensive picture of how its consumption patterns cause CO2 emissions and how much CO2 emissions the country is effectively responsible for. Although Switzerland produces few CO2 emissions domestically compared to other countries, current figures show that the Swiss population causes a large amount of CO2 emissions via imported goods and services and has above-average per capita emissions of around 14 tonnes of CO2 per person. Below you will find an explanation of the effective level of CO2 emissions compared with other countries, using the three emission variables as a basis.
The emissions of a country that arise through traffic, energy generation or regional heating production are called produced or direct emissions. If you add all these together, you get the cumulative CO2 emissions, i.e. all CO2 emissions, that a state has directly emitted in one year – grey emissions and hence imported emissions are not included here.
In 2021 countries worldwide together caused around 37.1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions directly. With around 11.5 billion tonnes, China was the biggest producer of cumulative CO2 emissions by some distance, followed by the USA with around 5 billion tonnes and India with around 2.7 billion tonnes. Germany occupies seventh position with around 675 million tonnes, while Switzerland is in 71st place with around 35 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
|Cumulative CO2 Emissions per Year (as of 2021)
|11.47 billion tons of CO2
|5.01 billion tons of CO2
|2.71 billion tons of CO2
|1.76 billion tons of CO2
|675 million tons of CO2
|329 million tons of CO2
|306 million tons of CO2
|65 million tons of CO2
|35 million tons of CO2
Source: globalcarbonatlas.org 2021
CO2 emissions generated during the production and transport of goods or services are grey emissions. These emissions are therefore not caused during consumption or use,but occur before or after these in the life cycle of a product or service. When grey emissions occur outside the country’s borders, they are often not taken into account when calculating a country’s CO2 emissions. However, if a product or service has been imported from abroad and consumed domestically, its emissions must also be taken into account when calculating a country’s total CO2 emissions. These imported emissions show how a country’s consumption patterns and standard of living cause CO2 emissions outside its borders.
Especially in Western countries, the amount of imported CO2 emissions is often greater than the direct CO2 emissions, as is the case in Switzerland. While it produces around 35 million tonnes of CO2 domestically per year, it imports an amount of around 116 million tonnes of CO2 via products and services from abroad. Switzerland’s consumption behaviour and standard of living thus causes around three times more CO2 emissions abroad than it itself produces domestically.
In addition to imported emissions, per capita emissions are also relevant when deriving CO2 emissions. To obtain this value, a country’s total CO2 emissions (direct and imported) are broken down in relation to its population. In other words, it determines the quantity of CO2 emissions that a single person in a country is responsible for per year, which puts international comparisons of emissions figures into perspective: even if the total emissions caused are low on a country-by-country basis, high per capita emissions indicate a climate-damaging lifestyle on the part of a country’s population. This makes it apparent that even countries with small populations are living the high life.
In 2020 Qatar had the highest per capita emissions worldwide at around 26 tonnes per person, followed by Singapore (around 24 tonnes per person) and Brunei (around 23 tonnes per person). But countries such as the United States (around 15 tonnes per person) and Australia (around 14 tonnes per person) also create above-average per capita CO2 emissions despite high population numbers. With around 12 tonnes of CO2 emissions per person, Switzerland is behind countries like the United States and Belgium in 18th place.
|Per Capita Emissions Including Grey Emissions (as of 2020)
Source: ourworldindata.org 2021
Based on its total CO2 emissions, Switzerland produces few CO2 emissions compared to other countries. However, like many other Western countries, it outsources a large part of its CO2 emissions abroad. It imports around three times more CO2 emissions than it produces and notches up an above-average figure per capita of around 12 tonnes. By way of comparison: in order to effectively curb climate change, each person needs to produce no more than 0.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. So, if more people in the world enjoyed the same standard of living as in Switzerland, climate change would progress at an even more rapid rate.
Global inequalities in CO₂ emissions, based on consumption - Our World in Data
CO₂ emissions - Our World in Data
CO₂ Emissions | Global Carbon Atlas
Consumption-based vs. production-based CO₂ emissions per capita, 1990 to 2019 (ourworldindata.org)
Indikator Klima (admin.ch)
Consumption-based vs. production-based CO₂ emissions per capita, 2019 (ourworldindata.org)
Climate: The most important facts in brief (admin.ch)
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