Carbon dioxide emissions are the significant drivers of climate change. Despite promising targets set by various countries, it is projected that global CO2 emissions will continue to rise in the next few years.
Our World in Data report shows that the world produced 6 billion tonnes CO2 in 1950. In comparison, the emissions had quadrupled by 1990, reaching a whopping 22 billion tonnes.
Quite alarmingly, our world now emits over 34 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Below, we take a closer look at the CO2 emissions from different sectors, regions, and markets.
Global CO2 Emissions by Region
The US and Europe have historically been responsible for most of the world's emissions, mainly due to the industrial revolution. Since the industrial revolution, the US has released over 400 billion tons of CO2.
As per this data, the US is the biggest CO2 emitter historically, having produced the highest volume of carbon dioxide emissions. The US is followed by China, the second largest CO2 emitter.
In 2019, China contributed 13% of the global CO2 emissions, primarily due to the country's excessive use of coal for energy production.
When coal is burned, it releases greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. Besides the US and China, other top CO2 emitters in the world are Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, India, France, and Canada.
Italy is also on the list of the top CO2 emitters, producing 24,74 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (1750-2020).
Although these countries are collectively producing high levels of carbon dioxide, the higher per capita CO2 emission worldwide is in Qatar, where one person produces 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Other oil-producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, also have high per capita emissions.
On the other hand, countries like Bangladesh and Burma have low per capita emissions because they have not yet industrialized.
An interesting trend is that CO2 emission is related to regional prosperity. Developing countries, such as Niger and Chad, in Sub-Saharan Africa, have an average footprint of merely 0,1 tons per year.
That's over 160 times lower than residents of Canada, Australia, and the US. To put it in perspective, it takes an average Australian or American just 2,3 days to emit as much CO2 as a Nigerian or Malian does in a year.
Meanwhile, North America is the second largest producer, emitting 6.5 billion tons of CO2, making up 18% of the global emissions. Meanwhile, Europe produces 6.1 billion tons of CO2, constituting 17% of global emissions.
Global CO2 Emissions by Sector and Market
Our World in Data report shows that some sectors produce a large share of global emissions, with the energy sector topping the charts.
Energy Sector CO2 Emissions
The energy sector produced 73,2% of the global CO2 emissions. The three main components of the industry are heat, transport, and electricity. Here's how the emissions are divided among these subsectors:
- Iron and Steel: These industries produce 7,2% of the total CO2 emissions.
- Chemical and Petrochemical: The manufacturing of refrigerators, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers is responsible for 3,6% of CO2 emissions.
- Food and Tobacco: 1% of the global CO2 emissions come from the food and tobacco industries.
While road transport produces 11,9% of CO2 emissions, the aviation industry is responsible for emitting 1,9% of the sector's carbon dioxide. 81% of the emissions in the aviation industry are due to passenger travel, while 19% are from freight.
Meanwhile, the shipping industry produces 1,7% of carbon dioxide emissions, while the freight and passenger rails produce 0,4% of emissions.
17,5% of the emissions in the energy sector come from residential and commercial buildings. The emissions are mainly due to the electricity generation for cooking, heating, and lighting.
Industrial Processes CO2 Emissions
Industrial processes, especially in the petrochemical and cement industries, produce 5,2% of the total CO2 emissions. For example, carbon dioxide is released during the production of aluminum, lime, and scandium.
Land Use, Forestry, and Agriculture CO2 Emissions
Agriculture, forestry, and land use produce 18,4% of global CO2 emissions. Most of these emissions come from livestock, grassland, cropland, and deforestation.
Of this 18,4%, agricultural soils produce 4,1% of the emissions, rice cultivation produces 1,3%, while crop burning emits 3,5% of the carbon dioxide.
Waste CO2 Emissions
Organic matter, such as human, plant, and animal residues, produces carbon dioxide. The waste sector is responsible for 3,2% of total emissions. Additionally, the recent coronavirus pandemic has increased the amount of surgical mask waste worldwide.
Projected Global CO2 Emissions: What Lies Next?
However, the Paris Agreement requires the emissions in billion tons to be 26,6 by 2030. The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. 193 Countries adopted it at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015.
The treaty’s long-term goal is to keep the global average temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
The Outlook for Global CO2 Emissions
Carbon dioxide emissions are a significant problem in the world, right at par with global food safety and water quality. Yet, despite the 2015 Paris Agreement, where nearly 200 nations committed to reducing emissions to limit the temperature increase to 2°C above preindustrial levels, the world is still not on track.
In fact, we’re currently heading towards a temperature increase. A significant reason for this is CO2 emissions from human activities.
Individually, we can do our part to help reduce these emissions. For example, we can drive less, fly less, and consume less meat and dairy.
Finally, it’s important to remember that although each person’s contribution might seem small, combined with the efforts of billions of others, it can have a big impact.
Global CO2 emissions have been on the rise for the past few years. The US, China, and Europe are largely responsible for the recent rise in emissions, with the energy and industrial sectors topping the charts for the highest CO2 emissions.