Just two countries, China and the US, are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

With CO2 levels still on the rise, being able to track the global emissions hotspots is becoming more important than ever. Before the industrial revolution, levels of atmospheric CO2 were around 280 parts per million (ppm). By 2013, that level had breached the 400ppm mark for the first time.

On 3 June 2019 it stood at 414.40ppm.

Fifteen countries are responsible for more than two thirds of global CO2 emissions.
Image: Visual Capitalist

There are huge disparities between the world’s top 15 CO2 emissions-generating countries. China creates almost double the emissions of second-placed US, which is in turn responsible for more than twice the level of third-placed India.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combatting climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated. Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy initiative is working with projects including the Partnering for Sustainable Energy Innovation, the Future of Electricity, the Global Battery Alliance and Scaling Renewable Energy to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Collectively, the top 15 generate 72% of CO2 emissions. The rest of the world’s 180 countries produce nearly 28% of the global total – close to the amount China produces on its own.

Of course, aggregating emissions by country is just one way of assessing the problem and working out how to counter it. The per capita figures tell a different story.

Per capita CO2 emissions: the top 4.
Image: Visual Capitalist

Here, China doesn’t even make the top 20. The per capita No 1 spot goes to Qatar, with Gulf States making up 3 of the top 4. The US is ranked 8th, behind Australia at 7th.

Looking at per capita figures rather than national-level totals could help bring the reality of the climate crisis closer to individuals. For example, a person may feel their decision to use less-polluting forms of transport is pointless in comparison to the colossal Chinese and American CO2 figures.

But seeing how population size alters the rankings, and where their country appears, may encourage people to see a connection between their actions and the results they can help bring about.