The World’s Top 10 Carbon Dioxide Emitters

Over the next two weeks, representatives from 200 countries are convening for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid. The Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP) is tasked with making sure the agreements under the Paris Climate Accord are met. That 2015 agreement aimed to promote steps to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels and, to less than 1.5 degrees above if possible. The Paris Accord built on the Kyoto Protocol, which went into effect in 2005.

The U.S. has a poor record of cooperation with these international bodies, having never ratified the Kyoto agreement, and withdrawing in 2017 from the Paris Accord (for its supposed negative impact on the U.S. economy).

China on the other hand, has gotten a lot of positive press for its investments in wind, solar, and electric vehicles. China leads the world in spending in each of those categories.

Nevertheless, as the data shows, China has become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide by far, growing emissions at a breakneck pace. While the U.S. leads the world in cutting carbon emissions.

According to the 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, global annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 20% since the Kyoto Protocol. The Asia Pacific region saw carbon dioxide emissions increase by 50% since 2005, while emissions in the U.S. and EU declined.

Below are the Top 10 emitters of carbon dioxide from 2018, along with the global share and the change each country has experienced since the 2005 Kyoto Protocol.

Of the Top 3 emitters, China and India have both experienced massive increases since 2005. The U.S. has experienced double-digit declines, as have Germany and Japan.

Large changes in coal consumption are the primary driver behind most of the countries mentioned above. China and India have greatly expanded their usage of coal, while the U.S. and Germany have seen sharp declines in coal consumption.

A key driver in the U.S. and Germany was legislation aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions. This helped spur rapid growth in renewable energy usage in both countries, which helped lower demand for coal.

But in the U.S., an even larger driver in reducing coal consumption was the shale gas boom, which created enormous supplies of cheap natural gas. Over the past decade, consumption of renewable power in the U.S. rose by 349 terawatt-hours (TWh). Over that same span, power from natural gas increased by 696 TWh — nearly double the renewable energy contribution.

The U.S., in fact has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than any other country since the Kyoto Protocol, while China has increased emissions by more than any other country.

It should be noted that the U.S. is first among countries when it comes to responsibility for historical carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. However, given China’s current emissions and the trends, they will pass the U.S. in the overall CO2 contribution to the atmosphere in a little more than a decade.

It also remains true that China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are much lower than those in the U.S. In 2018, annual emissions in the U.S. stood at 16 metric tons per person, while those in China were 8 metric tons per person. However, since 1980 per capita emissions in the U.S. have fallen by 20%, while they have more than quintupled in China.

Thus, it is clear that the U.S. bears responsibility for its share of the atmospheric carbon dioxide inventory. However, China now emits more than the next three countries combined, and emissions there continue to grow. China is therefore the single most important country when it comes to curbing carbon dioxide emissions. What China does — or doesn’t do — will largely determine the failure or success of the Paris Accord in reining in global carbon dioxide emissions.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Robert Rapier is a chemical engineer in the energy industry. Robert has 25 years of international engineering experience in the chemicals, oil and gas, and renewable en

...