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6 Graphs Explain the World’s Top 10 Emitters

Our ability to harness ever-expanding amounts of data is completely transforming our understanding of environmental problems and solutions. Our Climate Insights blog series leverages data from CAIT 2.0, WRI’s climate data explorer, to shed light on the many dimensions of climate change that shape society, policy, and global development.

All eyes are on Lima, Peru, where country representatives will gather next week for the annual U.N. climate negotiations (COP 20). One question is at the heart of these negotiations: How can countries reduce emissions enough to collectively limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, thus preventing the worst impacts of climate change?

In Lima and over the next several months, countries are expected to put forward new national emissions-reduction pledges for achieving this target in the decades to come. WRI’s recently published the CAIT Equity Explorer can help assess the equitability of these pledges. While equity considerations include more than just emissions—and all countries must take action to mitigate climate change—the actions of the world’s top emitters will likely be most heavily scrutinized—and rightly so: According to recent data, 10 countries produce around 70 percent of global GHG emissions.

Here’s a deeper look at these top 10 emitters—examining their total emissions, per capita emissions, emissions intensity, and historical cumulative emissions—based on data from WRI’s Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT 2.0).

Absolute Emissions

The previous chart defines the top 10 emitters based on their total annual emissions, also known as “absolute emissions.” Why? Over time, the absolute amount of GHGs emitted is what ultimately affects atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and the global carbon budget (see cumulative emissions, below). So the largest absolute emitters today have a larger role to play in determining the climate of the future. Regardless of other factors, these total annual numbers will have to be reduced for the top 10 emitters if global warming is to be limited to 2 degrees C.

Population and the size of the economy are two major drivers of absolute emissions. From the chart below, we can see that the largest absolute emitters comprised 60 percent of global population and 74 percent of global GDP in 2011. This also suggests that these countries have significant financial and human capacity to reduce GHG emissions.

Per Capita Emissions

Emissions on a per capita basis bring contributions to climate change down to an individual level. Looking at this metric, the order of our top 10 emitters changes considerably.

Among the top 10 absolute emitters, only two have per capita emissions that are below the world average. Canada, the United States, and Russia emit more than double the global average per person. On the other end of the spectrum, India’s per capita emissions are only one-third of the global average.

Emissions Intensity

The level of GHG emissions per GDP is a commonly used metric of emissions intensity. It is useful when looking at the de-carbonization of the national economy or energy system.

The graph above shows emissions intensity for the top 10 emitters’ whole economies and energy sectors. For the energy sector, the world average is 372 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) per Million $GDP, but intensities vary across countries. Seven of the top 10 emitters actually have a below average emissions intensity; Russia, China and Canada are above the world average. These differences result from varying emissions levels and size of economy, but are also dependent on factors such as a country’s energy mix the carbon intensity of sectors like electricity and heat generation, manufacturing, and transportation.

While many countries focus their de-carbonization plans on energy-related emissions, high emissions intensity could actually result from emissions from other sectors. For example, with emissions from deforestation and land-use change taken into account, Indonesia becomes the most intensive emitter.

Cumulative Emissions

Cumulative emissions describe a country’s total historic emissions. They are a commonly used concept for understanding responsibility for climate change, since they are a proxy for the amount of current warming caused by specific countries. This measurement can vary significantly depending on the chosen start date and the inclusion of gases and sectors.

The graph below shows cumulative emissions including Land-Use Change and Forestry (LUCF) for the top 10 emitters during the period 1990 to 2011, when complete data are available. Almost half of emissions come from just four countries: the United States, China, European Union and Russian Federation.

The graph below expands the time period from 1850 to 2011, during which data only on CO2 emissions are continuously available. In this case, the five major emitters—the United States, European Union, China, Russian Federation, and Japan— together contributed two-thirds of the world’s historic CO2 emissions - using up around 37 percent of our global carbon budget.

More Action Is Necessary

The picture of top emitters differs depending on how emissions are assessed. But regardless of how you analyze it, an international climate agreement cannot be successful without significant action from countries at the top of the emitters list. COP 20 is an opportunity for these countries and others to move forward with meaningful emissions-reduction plans that are both ambitious and equitable.


Come to take a look at the awesome first author~~~

When we know about all emisioner it's time to spread information about concrete actions to reduce these pollutants, which are often also losses.
For example, it is time to introduce Recycling Closet instead of the Water Closet and using the toilet waste to produce biogas and digestate. Biogas can be for electricity and heating / cooling and bio-fertilizer needed to maintain or improve soil fertility. We flushes nutrients into sewers and wastewater must be "purified" (or polluted?) with chemicals.
In wastewater treatment plants with expensive methods nitrogen is sent to the air. Then with the energy-intensive methods are bound nitrogen from the air in synthetic nitrogen fertilizer because without nitrogen becomes poor harvests.
In the knowledge-based society biology will be the base for prosperity.

Absolutely right Ruzena. Modern people and decision makers life in a fantasy bubble called a city. Their ignorance of organic reality is the root of so many problems .

What do cumulative per capita emissions including LUCF look like?

Right on!

I feel that the world leaders should put a cap on 'country wise' total emission at world level and percentage wise cap on the types of emitters....

The Per Capita information would be more interesting if you weren't just re-ranking the Top 10 Total Emitters.... there are countries outside the Top 10 Total Emitters who are in the Top 5 Per Capita Emitters.

Yes, in particular Australia with about 17 metric tonnes per Capita makes the worst three list, and I believe that is without giving it any responsibility for the coal it exports.

It would also be interesting to see the graph if the emission responsibility for consumption was pushed back on the consumer, e.g.. how much of China's emissions are from over-consumption in the US ?

China's emissions are not only from global consumerism but the business opportunities embraced by China, from western countries ordering components for Solar Energy panels and wind turbines, trying to lower their emissions !!! For instance, in the UK , re-cycling targets are set by the EU and heavy multi-million fines by the EU if we don't meet those targets. But, re-cycling plants are closing down because globally, the prices per tonne of plastic/ paper / tin has dropped significantly. So, NOW, our re-cyclable waste is sold cheap by local UK Councils, to re-cycling plants in Indonesia and gets loaded onto enormous container ships, going 9,400 nautical miles, JUST to avoid EU fines !

Basically, the west and their 'first world' countries, are giving contracts to China for solar Panels and wind turbines, to visibly reduce THEIR global pollution and emissions and LOOK as if they are playing their part . It's such HYPOCRISY by western countries.. China and Indonesia are vilified for being top global polluters, at the expense of Western countries appearing to comply and look good.
No-one talks about the inefficiencies of wind turbines, using electricity to keep the damn things turning in zero wind and them completely falling apart in high winds,even falling over. UK Conservative Government said they would be the greenest government and then stopped 'Free solar panels on private homes' ....much to the upset of Solar Panel installers, who were making a fortune, importing solar panels from China !

China until recently and their downturn in economy, were the worlds largest importer of WOOD,mainly from South American countries, so we're maybe talking rain forest.
They needed wood, to build houses, due to their economy growing so fast on the back of Western countries demands, successful companies expanded into housing market, to house successful employees and more wood was needed to build houses...... on a mega scale.

The links below, are just an offering, from left and right wing newspapers, who sometimes do decent journalism, regardless of politics.

Cannot agree more!! Most people totally ingore that one of the biggest parts in Chinese economy belongs to export, which means some developed coutries actually need to seriously consider their way of living, and develop more ecological consumer culture.

It is incorrect to place China's growth only on western consumerism. China set upon this growth path long ago as a planned growth in order to industrialize and move its people out of poverty. If China were not producing many inexpensive products, many other nations would do so...including western nations themselves, albeit at higher prices. The problem here is Oil and Coal companies, their wealth, banks rushing to loan to build coal plants in China for the fuel they will consume. If you want to deal with this problem, attack the energy source and force adaptation of renewables by Taxing Carbon heavily, especially in electricitiy generation. We won't change China and India's growth of coal burning until we change our electrical generation system and show it can be done.

Yes, this is something i wondered about. Thanks for the links...

Or 'pushed' back onto the Trade Departments of the Central Governments Globally, it may help provide a snapshot of resource use and material flows, also likely act as a hare to the merchant hounds. And exactly where black market economies fit in is i guess anyones guess.

well there are a whole lot of arab and Island countries worse than either the US or Australia in per capita carbon usage.

Per capita matters pretty much nill, and you should think about it as per square km of land, if anything.

The reasons for that is because the actual emissions themselves are the driving force behind climate change.

Australia might have the 3rd largest per capita, but this equates to about 1% of the worlds emissions, even though they have close to 6% of the worlds land mass.

Per capita for example makes china look fantastic, but in reality the raw numbers mean that they are making us all go down the sink.

If I put 1 hundred people in a house and that house emits

Thank you for the information rendering by you and helping me too.So keep sharing such useful information to us .To know about this information i really want to see about it more.

It occurs to me that a mass of fraud has been committed against America in reporting such as this. In Europe diesel-powered automobiles constitute about 49% of the market in the US less than 1%. Consequently, European carbon emissions per capita will be wildly higher than reported an articles such as this. So several questions:
Why are these erroneous figures and this erroneous stack ranking still being published by this organization?
Why has not the price and organizations such as this one demanded recalculation of the figures and acknowledge this horrendous fraud?
Assuming American negotiators at environmental agreements were competent is not the USO literally trillions of dollars in compensation by nations whose environmental performance relative to the US now will be seen as much much less favorable?
Why in the future should any American think it is in America's best interest to cooperate with liars and frauds?

The Volkswagen diesel fraud has to do with NOx emissions. The effect of carbon emissions due to the diesel fraud is negligible. Redoing the numbers would yield the same outcome.

This pollution per capita business misses the mark a little. For example, Australia and Canada seem to have high pollution levels per-capita, but let's not forget that Australia and Canada have tiny populations and massive land areas. Canada has most of the Earth's fresh water, and produces most of the Earth's oxygen, and they have an economy *based* on natural resources. So of course they're going to have higher levels of pollution per capita. This has nothing to do with how much their citizens consume, and everything to do with penalizing countries with natural-resource-based economies.

Brazil actually has actually the most fresh water in the world, not Canada! It also has the largest Forest in the World, as about 60% of the Amazon lies in its borders. So, it contributes the most for the Oxygen on this planet. In per capita CO2 emissions Brazil ranks 2nd to last, among the top 40 countries (only India with 1 billion plus people has a lower CO2 emission). As a percentage of Green House gas emissions, which includes Methane, Brazil produces 2.8% of the World GHG and has 2.6% of the world population. The GHG, CO2 and Population comes from Wikipedia. It is logical therefore to conclude that Brazil has the largest net contribution, with its forests and water, to the Earth's oxygen while among the least contributors to the world's GHG. Its a shame that people put so much bad publicity on Brazil without looking at data, simple facts as those I have pointed out. On a per capita basis, Brazil is the one country that is keeping our planet alive. It should be praised, while the media should be less biased and tendencious. The data is clear. The interpretation isn't always that clear, unfortunately.

Instead of thank Brazil for having a great combination of natural resources that they didn't created, we should instead blame them for being the responsible of the obscene depredation of what was originally the Amazon. If we could count how much oxigen has stopped to being released from brazilian territory because of brazilian governments the numbers would be MUCH WORSE .
One thing is the importance of their territory and other much different is the total effect of humans to that territory.

also, it;s pretty cold in Canada, they need heat in the winter.

Er. Its not so cold in Australia.....

When are we going to voice & include the difficult & important conversation into our concerns around climate change. Mother earth is OVERPOPULATED!! She is going to accept large #'s of us humans for only so long. I know I'm not the only person living on her who recognizes this as crucial to this discussion. Thank you.

Better have a Global War, that always did the trick in the past... joking of course, but economies do better and population goes down a little

The cumulative CO2 totals by country 1850 to 2011 data is certainly interesting, with the US and the EU accounting for 58% of what is in effect the all-time emissions total. This would suggest that these regions should have a far greater responsibility to cut emissions than other countries and regions do. The developing world is entitled to progress, and generally more progress means more emissions. This also raises very difficult questions of the size and sustainability of populations in different countries and regions.

The climate change debate is for the most part conducted on a very superficial level. The real issues and responsibilities are not identified and discussed and there is hypocrisy in many of the positions taken. At the same time all countries seem to recognize the need to reduce emissions, and there is action to do so occurring around the world. It is uncoordinated, and it is likely to remain so, but it is happening. Whether it is enough to do anything more than slow the rate of increase, time will tell.

Every country is afraid of losing its competitive edge by taking on more environmental regulations than its competitors. The obvious solution is to set one standard for the entire world.

Pie charts and stats are always easily manipulated. I don't care what people say, the world is overpopulated and half those people will contribute NOTHING to this world. They will just do small things to eat, but mainly they are taking up space. I know is sounds heartless, but it's a reason I didn't have kids, there are too many unwanted kids out there now, it's mind-blowing how selfish people are too. Not everyone can have a home due to limited resources. The whole world can't live the way that the developed world does b/c he world is already using 1.5 earths right now! It's not sustainable much longer unless we want to cut the rest of our forests and kill the rest of the oceans, there are already so many dead zones it's pathetic and sad. Forty years ago things were much better with the lower population. I can FEEL and see the difference when going in public. GDP was better, unemployment low, better people too b/c kids got educated or parents were fined for truancy if their kids didn't show up. I can say that I am American and the carbon footprint (and water use) for most of the world comes from corporations, not individual people. I don't drive, use a clothes dryer, use hardly any water (<5gal/day) and don't water the lawn. I don't think I could get my footprint any lower unless they make solar power affordable and required. I would use it in a heartbeat. In the US we also need to be able to grown food on our own. We need our food security back and out of the hands of the government b/c they are offering horrible choices. Who wants to eat meat from animals who are pumped full of estrogen-like compounds and antibiotics? Not me! Also, most of the world has a Vit B12 deficiency, esp if you are vegan. Please help me pressure pharmaceutical companies to make this cheaper. They need to put B12 in the water, not fluoride!

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