Facebook post misleads China, India’s carbon dioxide emissions
Viral publication on Facebook: Are China and India well ahead of the United States and other countries in carbon dioxide emissions?
PolitiFact’s decision: Half true
here’s why: Do China and India significantly overtake the US, UK, Germany and Japan in carbon dioxide emissions? A graph shared on Facebook shows a staggering increase in carbon dioxide emissions in China and India since 1990, while showing declines for the United States and other developed countries during the same period.
On Facebook, a user sharing the graph asked, “Why are we weakening our economy? They cited the New York Post as the source.
It is important to know what the graph shows and what it does not.
While the title of the graph reads “CO2 emissions per capita”, the lines in the graph show the percentage change in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2019 for China, India, Japan, United States, Germany and the United Kingdom.
He appeared alongside an Oct. 26 opinion piece in the New York Post titled “Why Destroy Our Economy to Cut Emissions – When China and India Are Puking?” The article preceded the international climate change conference of world leaders in Glasgow, Scotland, called COP26.
The opinion piece, written by Eddie Scarry, extracted data from the graph from Our World in Data, a University of Oxford project. So we asked Hannah Ritchie, senior researcher for Our World in Data, to tell us more about it.
Ritchie offered a simple explanation: Because China and India had very low levels of per capita emissions in 1990, when their economies were much less developed, their emissions have increased a lot since then. Readers wouldn’t know from this graph, but the US, UK, Germany, and Japan already had high emissions levels, which haven’t changed much over the same period. period.
A different way of looking at the data provides more context.
Our World in Data provided a similar graph looking at per capita CO2 emissions for the same countries and time periods. The difference in this graph is that it does not show the percentage change, but rather the actual change in per capita emissions over time, measured in tonnes. This version of the data presentation shows that the United States and Japan lead in CO2 emissions per capita.
The difference between the charts in Our World in Data depends on the selection of the “relative change” option. Checking this box displays the percentage change over time and gives the impression that China and India lead in CO2 emissions compared to other developed countries.
The Facebook post lacks context as it shows the evolution of emissions per person, but not the actual emissions.
The United States is responsible for the largest share of historic emissions with about 509 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide released since 1850. China has the second largest share of historic emissions with over 284 gigatons. Simon Evans, deputy editor of Carbon Brief, analyzed why cumulative CO2 emissions are important in an article from October 5, 2021. He wrote:
“There is a direct and linear relationship between the total amount of CO2 released by human activity and the level of warming at the Earth’s surface. In addition, the moment at which a tonne of CO2 is emitted has only one limited impact on the amount of warming will eventually cause.
“This means that CO2 emissions from hundreds of years ago continue to contribute to global warming – and current warming is determined by the cumulative total of CO2 emissions over time.”
A post on Facebook shows that China and India lead per capita CO2 emissions compared to the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan between 1990 and 2019.
The graphic lacks context and the title is misleading. Looking at the percentage change in per capita CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2019, China and India recorded the largest increases. Both countries had relatively low emissions in 1990, and they have increased significantly since then. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan already had high emissions levels in 1990, and they have remained at high levels, with the United States leading the pack.
We rate this statement as half true.
The post was reported as part of Facebook’s efforts to tackle fake news and disinformation on its news feed.
- Facebook post, October 28, 2021
- New York Post, “Why destroy our economy to cut emissions – when China and India are vomiting?” October 26, 2021
- Our World in Data, “CO2 Emissions”, last accessed November 16, 2021
- Our World in Data, “CO2 Data Explorer”, last accessed November 16, 2021
- Carbon Brief, “Analysis: Which countries are historically responsible for climate change? », October 5, 2021