Editor's Note: This article was updated March 2, 2023, from its last publish date of Dec. 29, 2021, to include WRI’s latest research and information about global greenhouse gas emissions.

A lot has happened since countries met in Paris in 2015 and agreed on an accord to combat climate change. So far, 196 countries ratified or otherwise joined the Paris Climate Agreement, representing more than 96% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, 57 countries — including United States, Japan, Canada, Germany and Mexico — also developed long-term plans to decarbonize their economies.

As countries implement their targets and policies and develop more detailed pathways to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it’s important to fully understand the global emissions picture and how it changes over time. Our Climate Watch interactive chart explores GHG emissions by country and economic sector1, and shows how top emitters have changed in recent years:

1) The World’s Top Three Emitters Contribute 15 Times the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Bottom 100 

The top three GHG emitters — China, the United States and India — contribute 42.6% total emissions, while the bottom 100 countries only account for only 2.9%.  

It’s interesting to note that while India ranks high among emitters, when you factor in population to look at per capita GHG emissions, the highly populated country ranks significantly lower than the other top 10 emitters. 

Collectively, this group of nations account for over two-thirds of global GHG emissions. The world cannot successfully fight climate change without significant action from the top 10 emitters. 

2) The Energy Sector is the Biggest Greenhouse Gas Emitter, but Action in Every Sector Counts 

Since reporting began in 1990, the energy sector — including generation of electricity and heat as well as end uses in buildings, transportation, and manufacturing and construction — remained the largest contributor to GHG emissions over any other sector, representing 76% of global emissions in 2019.

Energy emissions have increased by 61.9% since 1990. However, energy emissions growth has slowed down since 2013, only increasing by 4% over the last five years. Land-use change and forestry is the only sector that has decreased its emissions since 1990 (14% decrease, fourth largest sector), although their values reached its lowest point in 2013 and have been steadily increasing since. All the other sectors continued to increase their emissions since 1990, including agriculture (16% increase, second largest sector), industrial emissions (203% increase, third largest sector), and waste (19.5% increase, fifth largest sector). 

Avoiding the worst climate impacts will require reversing the upwards trend in all sectors and rapidly decreasing emissions to net zero by 2050.

3) Many Top Emitters Are Reducing their Emissions Per Capita 

While the top 10 emitters in total increased their emissions by 56.6% since 1990, the United States, European Union, Russia and Japan have since peaked their per capita emissions. 

More recent data from the Global Carbon Project, which covers energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, shows that emission growth has slowed down globally from 2013 to 2019, increasing by an average of 0.8% per year, compared to an average of 1.7% since 1990. This slowing of growth happened even as the global economy grew during the same period and 21 countries are already proving that decoupling emissions from economic growth is possible. In 2020, global emissions decreased by 4.9% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making it the largest drop in emissions since 1960 (first year of available data for this source). In 2021, however, emissions grew back quickly, reaching a 0.1% increase over 2019 values, showing that emissions are still on an upwards trend, illustrating the need for increased climate actions to see a decoupling of economic growth and carbon emissions.

Explore Climate Watch 

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to rapidly reduce emissions to net zero. Climate data is essential to understanding the latest emissions trends and countries’ short- and long-term actions that will bend the emission curve downward. 

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Climate Watch, WRI’s climate data platform, offers hundreds of open datasets that visualize historical greenhouse gas emissions of all countries, regions, sectors and various types of greenhouse gasses. The platform allows users to analyze and compare the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and long-term Strategies (LTS) under the Paris Agreement, discover countries’ climate policies, see how countries can leverage their climate goals to achieve their sustainable development objectives and use models to map new pathways to a lower carbon, prosperous future. These tools can help illuminate what changes must be made and chart a path toward achieving net zero. 

  1. The three conclusions explored in this article are based on 2019 data for all sectors, including land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) emissions. However, the interactive circle percentage chart does not show LULUCF emissions, as those emissions can be negative. Visit Climate Watch to see a full inventory for 2019 of all sectors, gases and countries, including LULUCF emissions.↩︎