Media Release – The Myth of North American Carbon Reduction Laggards

Press Release, Climate, Frontier Centre

Winnipeg: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released The Myth of North American Carbon Reduction Laggards. This policy study examines trends in population growth, economic performance and greenhouse gas emissions in North America and Europe over the past 20 years. The authors re-examine the dominant narrative of North American poor performance in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and find that when population and economic growth are taken into account, the performance gap between Europe and North America diminishes considerably. The authors conclude that emissions trends in affluent jurisdictions have been driven largely by international trade patterns and differential rates of population and economic growth.




Eisen, Wensveen and Green examine economic data, demographic data and GHG emissions inventories in 26 affluent countries and provide a reassessment of North American emissions reduction performance over the past two decades. They conclude that once population and economic growth are taken into account, along with international trade, the performance gap between Europe and North America in terms of emissions reductions shrinks dramatically. 



  • Since 1990, overall greenhouse gas dropped by 12.7 per cent in EU-15. By comparison, emissions grew by 7.2 per cent in the United States and 16.9 per cent in Canada.
  • However an important and frequently overlooked cause of these trends is the fact that, Canada and the United States have experienced considerably faster population growth than Europe during the same time period. Canada’s population increased by 22 per cent during this timeframe, the United States’ population increased by 23 per cent and the EU-15’s population increased by just nine per cent.
  • When adjustments are made to take population growth into account, the performance gap shrinks considerably. For example, since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol signing, per-capita emissions reduction in the United States has been almost identical to that of Europe. The EU-15 achieved a 16 per cent reduction per-capita between 1997 and 2009, compared to a 14 per cent reduction in the United States. Canada has reduced its per-capita emissions by 9 per cent since the Kyoto signing.
  • Comparatively strong economic growth in Canada and the United States also contributed to smaller reductions in overall emissions than occurred in Europe over the past twenty years. Regression analysis shows a positive correlation between economic growth and emissions increases, which mean faster-growing economies tend to find it more difficult to stabilize emissions than countries where economic growth is sluggish.
  • Lastly, the data presented in this paper suggests that most European countries “outsource” a larger of their GHG emissions resulting from their consumption of goods and services to developing countries than do Canada and the United States. In other words, many countries have achieved significant territorial emissions reductions partly by transferring a larger share of their carbon-intensive economic activity to China and other developing countries. This is especially true for some jurisdictions like Great Britain that outsource a large percentage of their carbon-intensive economic activity to developing countries. Leading UK scientists have stated that such outsourcing has created an “illusion” of strong emissions reduction performance.


“Canada and the United States have experienced relatively rapid economic and population growth compared to most comparably affluent European countries over the past twenty years,” says report co-author Ben Eisen. “It is much harder to stabilize or reduce overall emissions in a jurisdiction where the population is growing quickly than in a jurisdiction where growth is slow.” added Mr. Eisen. “When you’re assessing GHG emissions reduction performance, it’s important to recognize the role of economic and population growth in shaping general trends so that you don’t unfairly cast fast-growing countries as villains, when their numbers may simply be driven by generally positive trends such as economic growth.”


Download a copy of The Myth of North American Carbon Reduction Laggards HERE.



For more information and to arrange an interview with the study's authors, media (only) should contact:

Ben Eisen