With all the conversation around climate change, emissions must be starting to fall, right? Well, no actually.

Last year, global greenhouse gas emissions actually rose by 2.1%. That’s despite well-publicised commitments, such as the 2016 Paris Agreement, to keep global temperature rises to a minimum.

And, as the following chart shows, they’ve risen dramatically since the turn of the last century.

The world saw 36.831 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2018.
The world saw 36.831 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2018.
Image: Nature/Global Carbon Project

Consider China. Despite world-leading investments in renewable energy, its greenhouse gas emissions are still on the rise.

Last year, the superpower was responsible for almost one-third of all the CO2 emitted. China has also recently invested in new coal-fired power stations and, with its current policies, GHG emissions are projected to rise until at least 2030.

The second most-polluting nation, in terms of CO2 emissions, is the United States. Responsible for 15% of global emissions, it’s a long way behind China’s 27%.

But the US has the world’s highest per capita CO2 emissions – 16.6 tonnes per person, way ahead of the global average of 4.8 tonnes and China’s 7 tonnes per person.


It has been gradually reducing those emissions over the last few decades, but the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may undo some of that progress.

EU countries

Together, the 28 member states of the European Union are the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide - responsible for a combined 9% of global emissions.

By 2020 it has pledged:

  • 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions compared with 1990
  • 20% of total energy consumption from renewable energy
  • 20% increase in energy efficiency
A brighter future for EU emissions levels.
A brighter future for EU emissions levels.
Image: Nature/Global Carbon Project

By 2050, the EU aims to have slashed its emissions by 80-95% compared to 1990 levels.

The region’s dominant economy, Germany, is a prolific coal user. In 2016, more than 42% of its domestic electricity production came from coal.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

A hot topic?

With emissions still on the rise, there’s significant work still needed.

Speaking at the recent UN climate summit in New York, António Guterres, UN secretary-general, urged countries to take urgent, joined-up and decisive action to limit the effects of climate change, saying, “Nature is striking back with fury.”

Greta Thunberg also gave an impassioned speech to world leaders, accusing them of ‘betraying’ young people.