CO2 Emissions By Country: Who's Responsible for Climate Change?

By Georgette Kilgore | Updated on August 18, 2021

Calculating the CO2 emissions by country reveals a shocking truth. Nearly 50 percent of the world’s emissions come from two countries (the USA and China). As developed nations, the carbon emissions of the USA and China individually are larger than any other country, contributing greatly to the climate crisis the world faces today.

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to change this dynamic and reduce emissions.

CO2 Emissions By Country

The following information breaks down the emissions generated by each country.

Graphic image of a graph displaying the carbon emissions per capita per country with the countries on the y-axis and the carbon tons on the x-axis

1. China

In 2020, China emitted 28 percent of the world’s total pollution by country. The country has maintained their place as the number one contributor, having only reduced their carbon emissions by two percent since 2014.4 Because of large manufacturing industries, China has emerged as the world leader in CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gas production. And this is combined with practically zero regulations regarding environmental practices. Recently, China has vowed to enact measures to reduce this amount, but hasn’t outlined how.

This is different from per capita emissions though. In 2018, China ranked number 13 in the world by per capita emissions. This metric indicates that production, rather than individual needs, remains paramount.

2. United States

The United States emitted 15 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions in 2018, a steady percentage since 2014. Unlike China, per capita emissions are also a large attribution to the country’s total CO2 emissions, coming in at number four in the world by per capita emissions (16.58 tons) in 2018. The problem is not just with the consumer though. The total emissions in 2018 for the country was 5.42 billion tons.2

3. India

After China and the United States, there is a significant decrease in the percentage of CO2 emissions from each individual country. In 2020, India produced only seven percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions, and ranked number 21 for per capita emissions in 2018. The country’s total CO2 emissions cannot be disregarded though. This is still higher than most other countries landing at under five percent total CO2 emissions.3

4. Russian Federation

The Russian Federation contributed five percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions in 2020. Despite its lower percentage of total emissions, the Russian Federation still ranked at number seven in the world for per capita emissions in 2018. This continues to show the large disparity between per capita emissions and emissions from production, electricity, and more.1

5. Japan

In 2020, Japan emitted three percent of the world’s CO2 emissions and in 2018, ranked number eight in the world for per capita emissions. The size of the nation, coupled with the population make these numbers understandable. 1

6. Tied for Emissions Amounts At Two Percent: Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Canada

Each country that contributed two percent of the world’s CO2 emissions in 2020 was Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Canada. In the 2018 rankings by per capita emissions, Saudi Arabia ranked number one in the world though! This shows that consumers make a contribution to total CO2 emissions in the world, but not as much as produced in industrial production, commercial use, and electricity.1

7. Tied For Emissions Amounts At One Percent: Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Turkey, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, and France

In 2020, each country that contributed one percent of the world’s CO2 emissions was Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Turkey, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Poland, Italy, and France. The rest of the world that was not included in this list contributed the remaining total of 21 percent of CO2 emissions.1

CO2 Emissions by Economic Sector–What’s Driving Global Emissions?

The amount of CO2 emissions each country produces is vastly different from the amount of CO2 emissions produced per capita. This brings to light how much economics plays into the causes of global warming versus the average person. In 2010, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel and industrial processes contributed 65 percent of global greenhouse gases.

8 Billion Trees graphic image of the greenhouse gas emissions illustrated by a circle representing earth with the sun in the middle with the four categories(types) of greenhouse gases filling up the atmosphere from left to right; methane 10 percent, nitrous oxide 6 percent, fluorinated gases 3 percent, and carbon dioxide 82 percent

Here is a breakdown of global emissions by sector:

Electricity/Heat

In 2010, 25 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions by country came from the production of electricity and heat. This involves burning natural gas, oil, and coal.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use

In 2010, 24 percent of emissions came from land use, due to agriculture and deforestation. Agriculture can be attributed to both raising livestock and crops. While this percentage looks large, an estimate of 20 percent was offset by biomass, which naturally captures carbon from the environment.

Transportation

In 2010, 15 percent of emissions came from the burning of fuel for vehicles on the road, in the air, and on the water. Of that, 95 percent of fuel worldwide for transportation vehicles comes from petroleum sources such as gasoline.2 This provides a glimmer of hope on what we can do as individuals when it comes to selecting a vehicle and limiting our travel. Bear in mind though that the production of vehicles are included in the 21 percent of global greenhouse emissions from industrial production in 2010 as well.

Industry

Industrial production contributed 21 percent of global greenhouse emissions in 2010. Almost every material item you use on a day-to-day basis was made in a factory and feeds into a system of continually making more items that require fossil fuel, chemical, and mineral processes that emit CO2 into the atmosphere.

Building and Construction

Onsite energy required for buildings (such as fuel for cooking) contributed six percent of global emissions in 2010, making it a lower concern compared to the massive impact of industrial production and agriculture. Every incremental step can help reduce our emissions though, so building emissions should not be disregarded.

Other Energy

All other processes of extracting energy that were not included here contributed to the remaining ten percent of emissions in 2010.

How Have Global Emissions of Carbon Dioxide Changed Over Time?

From 800,000 years ago to even just 100 years ago, the world has seen an all-time high in carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to industrialization. While we have experienced improvements in emissions during certain years, it is going to require significant change from consumers, governments, and corporations to make an impact.

In 2019, China contributed 10.17 billion tons of CO2 emissions versus their 24.26 million tons in 1919.3 The United States has made an improvement from 2007 with a peak of 6.13 billion tons of CO2 emissions to 2019 with 5.28 billion tons of CO2 emissions. But in comparison to 1919’s emissions of 1.48 billion tons, the United States needs more drastic improvement.

This rise in emissions is not just in the two leading countries of global emissions. In 2019, India contributed 2.62 billion tons versus 43.05 million tons in 1919.

How Do We Make Progress in Reducing Global Emissions?

As an individual, it is crucial to consider where your material goods come from, how you get from place-to-place, and what you eat. While the majority of emissions comes from the production of goods, you have the power to influence what goods are created.

Purchasing more sustainable materials, shopping locally, reducing the meat and dairy you eat, and researching what food is growing seasonally near you are just some of the changes you can start implementing toward a better future, right now.

You can do Your Part Too!

No matter what you do, you will always have some sort of carbon footprint. We all do! That is why it is important to offset your carbon emissions. When you put your money toward purchasing carbon offsets, you contribute to the planting of trees that naturally pull carbon from the environment and provide habitat to animals.


References

1Union of Concerned Scientists. Each Country’s Share of CO2 Emissions. 12 August 2020.

2United States Environmental Protection Agency. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. 2021. Web. 16 April 2021. <https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions>.

3Our World Data. United States: What are the country’s annual CO2 emissions? 2021. Web. 16 April 2021.

4Our World Data. China: What are the country’s annual CO2 emissions? 2021. Web. 16 April 2021. <https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/china?country=~CHN >.