Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 433–453

Relationship between carbon emissions and economic development: case study of six countries

Case Study

DOI: 10.1007/s10668-011-9328-2

Cite this article as:
Cutlip, L. & Fath, B.D. Environ Dev Sustain (2012) 14: 433. doi:10.1007/s10668-011-9328-2


There is much discussion within the sustainable development community regarding climate stabilization and particularly, finding environmentally equitable ways to address emission reductions. Knowing the current level of emission is only one variable in this complex picture. While the rate of emissions is clearly a problem, the overall increase in GHG concentration in the atmosphere is ultimately the main driver of anthropogenic warming. Therefore, it is also important to understand the cumulative emissions, those which have taken us to the current condition. This research presents a case study of six countries to compare the emissions per capita and cumulative emissions during the past 200 years. It is known that carbon emissions are closely related to economic activities, but here we show that some countries have reached per capita emissions plateaus at different levels while others are still rising. Specifically, one approach toward socioeconomic development, in terms of energy–economy, reaches a plateau at 10 Mt carbon per person, which the United Kingdom and South Korea have attained. The US occupies another emission regime at 20 Mt carbon per person. Developing economies such as India and China are considerably below these levels, and unless they follow other integrated economic/environmental solutions, they will continue to increase their per capita emissions during development.


Climate change Carbon emissions Per capita emissions Cumulative emissions Development Economy 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesTowson UniversityTowsonUSA
  2. 2.Advanced Systems Analysis Program, International Institute for Applied Systems AnalysisLaxenburgAustria
  3. 3.University of South FloridaTampaUSA

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