Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Malawi

Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in Malawi. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Malawi
Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in Malawi. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Malawi
Overview of greenhouse gases and emissions per capita in Malawi. Are they prepared to meet net zero targets and invest in the energy transition?

What percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions does Malawi produce?

Malawi produced 0.03% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 (the latest date with complete emissions data). This amounted to 13.8m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or MtCO₂e. These emissions represented an increase from 2020 by 2.7%.

In the period from 1990 to 2021 their emissions have increased by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.8% and Malawi has contributed 0.02% of global greenhouse emissions.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in USD$12.6bn
Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 202113.8m
Change in Emissions since 20202.7%
Percentage of Total Emissions (2021)0.03%
Rank – Emitters in 2021132
Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions since 1990192m
Compound Annual Growth – Emissions since 19904.8%
Percentage of Total Emissions (1990-2021)0.02%
GDP Per Capita (USD)$643
Emissions Per Capita0.7

In 2021, Malawi was the world’s 132nd largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. The largest emitters in the same period were China, the United States, India, Russia and Brazil.

When looking at emissions over time Malawi is the 145th largest emitter since 1990.

Emissions per capita in Malawi – average household carbon footprint

The population of Malawi is 19.6m. On a per capita basis, they produce 0.7 tonnes of CO2e per person, placing them 187th out of 191 on emissions produced per capita. The biggest per capita emitters are Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Turkmenistan.

What is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Malawi?


15% of emissions in Malawi came from Carbon Dioxide (CO2), 32.9% came from Methane (CH4), and 45.2% came from Nitrous Oxide (N2O).


The sector that produced the most emissions in 2021 was the agriculture industry, producing 9.93m of GHG emissions, constituting 72% of total.

The second and third largest emitting sectors were land-use change and forestry and energy, producing 59.4% and 14.7% of total GHG in Malawi.


The industry that produced the most energy related emissions was the transportation industry, producing 1.42m of GHG emissions, constituting 10.3% of total emissions.

The second and third largest emitting sectors were fugitive emissions and manufacturing/construction, emitting 262k and 257k tonnes of GHG each.

Land Use Change and Forestry

Land use change and forestry (LUCF), such as deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural or urban areas, can have a significant impact on carbon emissions.

  • Trees and other vegetation absorb and store carbon through the process of photosynthesis, and when they are cut down or burned, that stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.
  • Deforestation and other forms of land use change can also reduce the ability of ecosystems to absorb and store carbon in the future. Additionally, the conversion of land for agriculture or urban development can lead to the release of carbon stored in the soil.
  • On the other hand, sustainable forestry practices, such as reforestation and afforestation, can help to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in trees and other vegetation.

In the case of Malawi, LUCF had a negative impact on Malawi’s emissions, increasing their carbon footprint by 8.2m tonnes.

After accounting for land use change and forestry, the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in Malawi in 2021 was 22m metric tonnes.

How vulnerable is Malawi to the impact of climate change?

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) Index

The ND-GAIN Index measures countries’ vulnerability to global challenges, including climate change, and their readiness to improve resilience.

Malawi scores 37.6 on the ND-Gain Index and is classified in the ‘high vulnerability and low readiness’ category of climate change preparedness.

The index aims to assist businesses, governments, and communities in prioritising investments for a more efficient response to global shifts.

It is measured by combining two main components:

  1. Vulnerability: This evaluates a country’s vulnerability to environmental risks and its ability to adapt. It considers health, food and water availability, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. A higher score indicates greater vulnerability to environmental challenges.
  2. Readiness: This measures how well a country can leverage investments to mitigate climate change. It considers economic stability, governance, technology, and infrastructure. A higher score means a country is better prepared to implement resilience strategies.

This ranking helps identify areas where resources and adaptation strategies can be most effectively directed to mitigate risks and enhance resilience.

By combining these dimensions, the index provides a comprehensive approach to measuring countries’ ability to cope with the impacts of climate change.

High vulnerability and low readiness in Malawi

In terms of readiness to adapt to climate change, Malawi ranks in the bottom 25% group. Globally, the average readiness score is 0.424, with Malawi posting a score of 0.294.

They show the greatest strength in governance aspects, while their performance in social aspects requires improvement.

  • Governance readiness refers to the political, legal, and regulatory aspects influencing a country’s adaptation to climate change, including stability, corruption control, and law enforcement.
  • Social readiness refers to the societal factors like inequality, education, and technology infrastructure that affect a country’s ability to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Regarding vulnerability to climate change, Malawi falls into the bottom 25% category. Compared to the global average vulnerability score of 0.431, Malawi has a score of 0.542.

Their resilience is most notable in water areas, yet they face significant challenges in health.

  • Water vulnerability refers to the availability and reliability of water resources, critical for economies and livelihoods. Efficient water use and resilient systems are essential as climate change affects precipitation patterns.
  • Health vulnerability refers to the impact of climate change on diseases and medical resources. Innovations can enhance resilience to vulnerabilities affecting human health through food, water insecurity, and extreme weather events.

The formula to calculate the ND-GAIN Index is

GAIN Index=(Readiness Indicators−Vulnerability Indicators+1)×50GAIN Index=(Readiness Indicators−Vulnerability Indicators+1)×50

In this formula:

  • The Readiness Indicators are measured on a scale of 0 to 1, where a higher score means that the readiness is better.
  • The Vulnerability Indicators are also measured on a scale of 0 to 1, but a lower score indicates better vulnerability in this case. 
  • The difference between the Readiness and Vulnerability scores is calculated and then incremented by 1. 
  • Finally, the result is multiplied by 50 to convert the GAIN Index score to a range of 0-100, where a higher score means the situation is better.

Is there a correlation between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth in Malawi?

In 2021, the gross domestic product (GDP) in Malawi grew by 4.5% from the previous year, with the economy moving from $12.1bn to $12.6bn. During the same period, carbon emissions increased by 2.7%. Over the ten-year period from 2011 to 2021, GDP grew 8.2%, while emissions increased by 107%.

To put this into context, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of GDP in Malawi over the past ten years was 0.79%, and the CAGR for greenhouse gas emissions was 7.6%.


World Resources Institute, 2022. Climate Watch Historical GHG Emissions. [online] Washington, DC. Available at:

Global Carbon Project, 2023. Supplemental data of Global Carbon Budget 2023 (Version 1.1) [Data set]. Global Carbon Project. Available at:

UNFCCC, 2023. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data. [online] Available at:

Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative, 2023. ND-GAIN Country Index. [online] Available at:

FAO, 2022. Land-Use Change and Forestry or Agriculture indicators from FAOSTAT Emissions Database. [online] Available at:

OECD/IEA, 2022. CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion. [online] Available at:

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