Greenhouse gases are one of our planet's most significant challenges. This article will examine the countries that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions.
Many countries have taken steps to reduce emissions and address climate change. Yet, some are still responsible for a disproportionate amount of global greenhouse gases.
The top three emitters (China, USA, India) are responsible for 44.2 per cent of all emissions. An astonishing amount. Let's have a look at these countries and the rest of the top ten.
Note - the data in this article is provided by ClimateWatch. It refers to the most recent year where complete global data is available (2019).
China is the world's most populous country and largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2019, the nation emitted 12 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent. China produces a quarter of all emissions globally. National emissions increased by 5 per cent from 2018. They have increased by a staggering 316.9 per cent since 1990.
With a population of over 1.4 billion, China's per capita emissions are moderately high, ranking 52nd globally. The country's rapid industrialisation and dependence on coal power are critical drivers of these emissions.
Chinese emissions have increased substantially since joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001. Becoming a member was a key step in opening the economy. The result has been an increase in manufacturing and industrial activity. Emissions increased by 172 per cent between 2001 and 2019.
The country has made significant investments in renewable energy. They have set ambitious targets to reduce emissions. Hydroelectric power, solar and wind are critical sectors receiving investment. This includes the 43GW offshore wind farm being developed in Guangdong province. However, China also faces criticism for continued use of coal and lack of transparency in reporting emissions.
2. United States
The largest economy in the world, The United States, is the second-largest emitter. In 2019, national emissions were 5.7 billion metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This represents 12 per cent of global greenhouse gases. The USA also has relatively high emissions per capita of 17.4 metric tonnes. This is 40 per cent higher than the worldwide average (11.6).
As the USA industrialised in the early 20th century, recent emissions have not increased as rapidly as China. Greenhouse gas emissions have only increased by 0.2 per cent since 1990 and dropped by 2.1 per cent from 2018 to 2019. The country has been criticised for its reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in the transportation and power sectors. The Inflation Reduction Act’s pledge to reduce emissions by 31-44 per cent is a step in the right direction.
India, the world's second-most populous country, emitted 3.4 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019. This makes it the third-largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and a producer of 5.3 per cent of the global total. Indian emissions have increased by 235.5 per cent since 1990.
With a population of over 1.3 billion and a GDP of $3.2 trillion, India's per capita emissions of 2.4 metric tonnes are relatively low, ranking at 148th globally.
The country's rapid economic growth, dependence on coal power and growing transportation sector are critical drivers of these emissions. The government has made significant progress in expanding access to renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, but still faces significant challenges in reducing emissions from the agriculture and transportation sectors.
Indonesia is the fourth largest emitter, accounting for 4.1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, Indonesian greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 1.96 billion tonnes, a 15.8 per cent increase from the previous year. Regarding emissions per capita, Indonesia ranks 66th, with 7.1 tonnes per capita.
Indonesia’s commitment to net-zero goals has been declared insufficient by Climate Action Tracker. Managing a national reliance on coal for electricity and high land use emissions is crucial to meeting net-zero goals.
Russia is the world's 5th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2019, national emissions were 1.9 billion metric tonnes - 4 per cent of the global total. Per capita emissions of 13.4 are also 20 per cent higher than the worldwide average.
The country's dependence on fossil fuels, particularly in the energy and transportation sectors, is a significant driver of these emissions. Russia is a major player in the global energy market, particularly in natural gas, where it is the second largest producer.
Russia has also been criticised for its lack of action on climate change. Activists have campaigned for the country to take more aggressive steps to reduce emissions. That said, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased since 1990. As the economy became more market-oriented post cold war, emissions decreased on average by 1.1 per cent yearly.
With a population of over 213 million, Brazilian emissions per capita of 6.8 are relatively low, ranking 70th globally. Despite this, Brazil has faced criticism for its deforestation practices and agricultural emissions. Forest change is a major issue. Brazil has lost 12 per cent of tree cover since 2001.
In 2019, Japan’s emissions were 1.13 billion metric tonnes, making it the 7th largest emitter globally.
Despite relatively low emissions per capita of 9 metric tonnes, Japan is responsible for 2.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The country's heavy reliance on fossil fuels for power and transport is a critical factor.
Japan has also made significant strides in recent years to reduce its emissions, seeing a 3.1 per cent decrease between 2018 and 2019.
Iran is the eighth largest emitter. 893 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent were produced in 2019. Due to a reliance on petroleum and fossil fuels, Iranian emissions increased by 193.8 per cent from 1990 to 2019. Iran is the fifth-largest crude oil producer and third-largest natural gas producer (EIA data).
However, emissions did decrease by 3.4 per cent in 2019 from the previous year. Iran's emissions per person in 2019 were 10.5 metric tonnes, slightly lower than the global average of 11.6 tonnes per capita.
Canada, known for its natural beauty and vast landscapes, emitted 774 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019. Canada's emissions increased by 0.8 per cent from the previous year and by 27.6 per cent since 1990.
With a population of just over 38 million, Canada's per capita emissions of 20.2 tonnes are almost double the global average.
The country has implemented various measures to reduce emissions. These include carbon pricing schemes and investments in renewable energy. Renewable sources represent 22 per cent of Canadian energy consumption. However, the country has faced criticism for its continued support of the fossil fuel industry.
10. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has contributed 1.2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. With a GDP per capita of $23,586, Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, thanks in large part to its oil exports. Energy production is a significant part of national emissions.
Saudia Arabian greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 200 per cent since 1990. In 2019, Saudi Arabia's emissions were 723 million metric tonnes of CO2, making it the 10th largest emitter in the world.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest emissions per capita, at 20.5 tonnes, almost twice the global average.
Factors Driving Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The factors driving greenhouse gas emissions vary from country to country. Some common drivers include the following:
- Heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy generation
- Rapid industrialisation and economic growth
- Increasing transportation needs
- Agricultural practices, such as livestock farming and deforestation
- Lack of investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency
What steps can we take to reduce emissions?
Greenhouse gas emissions are a principal contributor to climate change. We must reduce these emissions to protect the planet and future generations.
It's encouraging to see investment in renewables and promoting energy efficiency. However, more must be done, and all countries must work together to tackle this global issue.
As individuals, we can also reduce emissions through sustainable choices. This can include reducing energy consumption, driving less, eating a plant-based diet, and reducing waste. We can all contribute to a healthier planet and a brighter future by making small changes.