Future of the Environment

Chart of the day: These countries have the largest carbon footprints

Pedestrians walk along a footpath in front of a massive chimney billowing smoke for a coal-burning power station in central Beijing January 12, 2012. China, with 1.34 billion people, is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases which totals around a quarter of the world's CO2. This is more than the United States, historically the world's top emitter. A recent study from U.S. researchers states that China could peak in emissions by 2030 or earlier, with Chinese demand for appliances, buildings and much industry reaching "saturation" around then. Beijing has resisted officially spelling out when its emissions could peak saying they should be allowed to grow out of poverty while rich nations lead the way in cutting carbon.    REUTERS/David Gray     (CHINA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY) - GM1E81C160J01

Pedestrians walk along a footpath in front of a massive chimney billowing smoke for a coal-burning power station in central Beijing Image: REUTERS/David Gray

Henry Bewicke
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How much CO₂ does your country emit per capita (person)? And how does it compare with the rest of the world?

This chart by Statista highlights the enormous variations between the major world economies in CO₂ emissions measured at the individual level.

The average American, for example, is responsible for 14.95 metric tons, compared to 6.57 metric tons per person in China and only 1.57 metric tons in India.

Image: Statista

There’s also a huge difference in CO₂ emissions per person among the US states. Wyoming has the highest CO₂ emissions per capita at 110 metric tons, while New York has the lowest with under 9 metric tons, according to US Energy Information Administration figures from 2015.

While the US is way ahead of China under the CO₂ per capita measurement, China is the world’s biggest emitter overall.

It overtook the US in terms of total emissions back in 2006 and now emits more than the US and EU combined.

Rapid economic growth and a large population have been driving up China’s emissions. This chart from the World Resources Institute shows the scale of its contribution to global warming.

Image: World Resources Institute

Canada has neither the large population nor the high total greenhouse emissions of China and the US, but when its CO₂ emissions are measured per person it only narrowly misses out on the top spot.

This is because it’s a vast country with a small population and abundant natural resources that are spread across its wilderness, which means it has proportionally high emissions from transport, industry and energy.

Third on the list behind the US and Canada is South Korea which still relies heavily on coal for electricity and has a more energy-intense economy than most other G20 countries.

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Most of the world’s largest economies have high CO₂ emissions per capita – 10 of the top 12 are above the global average of 4.35 metric tons. Brazil and India are the only major economies with below average CO₂ emissions per capita.

China, Brazil and India are the only nations that are outside the “very high” category of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index.

Despite having high total emissions, Brazil’s and India’s CO₂ emissions per capita are comparatively low due to their large populations and relatively low GDP per capita.

The EU countries in the top 10 – Germany, the UK, Italy and France – have CO₂ emissions per capita below the OECD average.

At the UN’s COP24 summit in Poland nearly 200 countries reached a consensus on implementing the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. But global action on climate change can’t come soon enough – the recent uptick in the world’s emissions is a stark reminder of the struggle that lies ahead.

In a recent article, Emily Farnworth, Head of Climate Change at the World Economic Forum, outlined five ways we can make the shift to a carbon neutral world, from protecting nature to putting a price on carbon.

"In the face of scientific facts that can no longer be ignored, bold leadership is needed to fast-track to carbon neutrality," she wrote.

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Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentClimate ChangeSustainable DevelopmentGlobal GovernanceEnergy Transition
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