Venezuela the worst carbon polluter in Latin America, Brazil among the best
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Venezuela the worst carbon polluter in Latin America, Brazil among the best

Venezuela has the highest levels of carbon pollution in Latin America, while its southern neighbor, Brazil had one of the lowest levels despite being one of the region’s wealthiest economies.

On a per capita measure, Venezuelans were responsible for 6.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011 while Brazilians averaged 2.2 metric tons in the same year, less than a third of their northern neighbors. The data was based on figures obtained from the World Bank, with 2011 being the most recent year available for all countries. In comparison, all countries ranked substantially below the U.S., which averaged 17 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2011.

A number of other Latin American countries scored below Brazil on this metric, such as Colombia, Costa Rica and the region’s poorest nations. However, a second measure shows that Brazil has accomplished something these lower polluters have not, significant economic growth without increasing per capita carbon emissions.

When measuring total carbon dioxide emissions over a country’s gross domestic product, Brazil had the second lowest score in Latin America, losing out only to Uruguay.

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A timeline and 2011 comparison of carbon dioxide emissions of GDP (right). The right chart also lists 2011 per capita GDP levels. Latin America’s economies have grown without a significant rise in per capita CO2 emissions, but some countries have done better than others. Data from 2011 was provided by the World Bank, the most recent year available for all countries.

Hydroelectricity and high gas prices

Two data points help explain the large difference between the greener economies of Brazil and Costa Rica and emissions heavy Venezuela.

Costa Rica generated 91 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2011, according to the World Bank data. This was second to only one of the poorest Latin American countries, Paraguay, which reported 100 percent of its electricity generation from hydropower. Brazil and Colombia closely trailed Costa Rica at 88 percent and 83 percent respectively.

Even Venezuela relied heavily on renewables, reporting 69 percent electricity production from hydropower. The overwhelming majority of Latin America’s carbon emissions are due to burning gasoline.

In 2011, all of Latin America and the Caribbean reported 64 percent of its carbon emissions were from burning liquid fuel such as gasoline as opposed to solid fuel such as coal or gaseous fuel such as natural gas.

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A comparison of fuel prices in major oil producers such as Venezuela compared with Brazil and Costa Rica help explain the difference in emissions output.

Venezuela has substantially cheaper fuel prices, at $0.015 per liter (or $0.057 per gallon) in 2014, according to the World Bank. By contrast, gasoline prices were $1.27 per liter in Brazil (or $4.81 per gallon) in Brazil and $1.44 per liter (or $5.45 per gallon) in Costa Rica, an almost hundredfold difference in price.

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A comparison of 2011 renewable electricity production among selected countries in the Americas along with 2014 liquid fuel prices. Data from the World Bank, from the most recent year available for all countries.

A comparison of per capita and total carbon emissions across Latin America below. Technical note: Some small population Caribbean countries, such as Aruba, actually had higher per capita carbon dioxide emissions than Venezuela, but were excluded in the above analysis due to their size.

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