Carbon footprint of nations: a global, trade-linked analysis

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 Aug 15;43(16):6414-20. doi: 10.1021/es803496a.


Processes causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefit humans by providing consumer goods and services. This benefit, and hence the responsibility for emissions, varies by purpose or consumption category and is unevenly distributed across and within countries. We quantify greenhouse gas emissions associated with the final consumption of goods and services for 73 nations and 14 aggregate world regions. We analyze the contribution of 8 categories: construction, shelter, food, clothing, mobility, manufactured products, services, and trade. National average per capita footprints vary from 1 tCO2e/y in African countries to approximately 30/y in Luxembourg and the United States. The expenditure elasticity is 0.57. The cross-national expenditure elasticity for just CO2, 0.81, corresponds remarkably well to the cross-sectional elasticities found within nations, suggesting a global relationship between expenditure and emissions that holds across several orders of magnitude difference. On the global level, 72% of greenhouse gas emissions are related to household consumption, 10% to government consumption, and 18% to investments. Food accounts for 20% of GHG emissions, operation and maintenance of residences is 19%, and mobility is 17%. Food and services are more important in developing countries, while mobility and manufactured goods rise fast with income and dominate in rich countries. The importance of public services and manufactured goods has not yet been sufficiently appreciated in policy. Policy priorities hence depend on development status and country-level characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Carbon / economics
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / economics
  • Commerce*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Internationality*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Uncertainty


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon