Carbon intensity and energy saving

Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon economies emit for every dollar of GDP they produce.
It is an alternative way of identifying the planet’s “big emitters”.

Some countries with high emissions generate very little wealth from those emissions, because their economies are very “carbon intense”.

Typically they burn coal and use the resulting energy wastefully.

Others, by using renewable fuels and using energy wisely, have much lower carbon intensities.
Generally, rich nations use energy more efficiently, but some poor economies are also very efficient (and vice versa).

The largest decreases in energy intensity (energy consumed per unit of GDP) since 1990 have been achieved by developing nations, in particular India and China, who have reduced their energy intensity by 40% and 60% respectively.

So, both Switzerland and Cambodia produce around US$9,000 (market rate) of GDP for every tonne of CO2 emitted. But the USA, Australia and Laos produce only US$2,000 of GDP per tonne.

At the high-intensity end, both Russia and China produce only around US$400 of wealth per tonne of emissions.

Changing fuel use is clearly one key to cutting carbon intensity. But for most countries and industries, rich and poor, high-tech and low-tech, using energy more efficiently is the easiest way to reduce emissions and improve carbon intensity.

Mostly it saves money too, by cutting energy bills.
 / ©: paint for the planet / Tewanat Saypan, Thailand
International Children’s Painting Competition on the Environment organized by UNEP, the Foundation for Global Peace and Environment, Bayer and Nikon.
© paint for the planet / Tewanat Saypan, Thailand
Carbon intensity is a measure of how much carbon economies emit for every dollar of GDP they produce.
China’s current 5-year plan has set a target for cutting energy intensity by 20% between 2005 and 2010.

This is the most ambitious percentage target in the world. 


Carbon-intensive industries like cement manufacture and iron and steel have been charged with meeting the target. But individual Chinese citizens and communities can contribute too.

WWF has begun a campaign in China to help with “20 ways to 20%”.

Ideas include energy-saving light bulbs, unplugging appliances, using public transport and buying energy-saving versions of equipment like air conditioners.

Says Ang Li of WWF China: “If all of China’s 1.3 billion people follow the 20 tips, they can save 300 million tonnes of coal each year.”
 / ©: WWF
Publicity stunt. Car drives around Beijing with a huge black "cloud" emerging from its exhaust.
© WWF

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