4 minutes reading time (790 words)

World Polluters CO2


It is now established beyond reasonable doubt that the primary contributor to global warming and climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by humans. Unless nations collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, there will be widespread famine, flooding of major cities, the disappearance of low-lying land, and a devastating impact on human and animal life. At the time of writing COP26 is underway in Glasgow with political leaders, looking to negotiate targets and method plans to reduce CO2. Just who is top of the pops in the World CO2 Polluter charts?

Most CO2 emissions result from the combustion of fossil fuels and cement production. However, there is a vast disparity between counties, as the contribution to a countries total emissions is a product of its population and the per-capita emissions. While many small countries have very high per-capita emissions, taken individually, their contribution is insignificant. For example, Montenegro produces 25.9 tonnes per capita, one of the highest, but the overall contribution is vanishingly tiny as its population is less than 700,000. So which countries are the major contributors?

World Top 10 CO2 Emitters

The chart "Top 10 Emitters" compares the percentage contribution to total global emissions of each of them. Taken together, they account for 57.69% of world greenhouse CO2.

While China dominates this, the country's population of 1.402 billion is enormous – 18.4% of the world population. So let's look at the per-capita contribution from the world's largest emitters.
Our second chart shows the contribution to global emissions for the top 17 emitters (left axis). We have extended the number to 17 as this now includes the United Kingdom. We have also added the per-capita emissions for each of these countries (right axis). We can now see that although China is the biggest emitter, its per capita emissions are dwarfed by countries such as the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

Of course, these vast differences occur as several are at very different stages of their development curves and have diverse economies and energy dependencies. Drilling down a little further:


China's economy is heavily reliant on coal, and coal mines are increasing production to cope with the surging demand. The country has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060, a demanding goal. However, in terms of renewable energy, China is a world leader. It produces over 30% of solar power and is the world leader in producing wind power. The International Energy Agency (IEA) insists that for China to reach its carbon-neutral goal, it will need to reduce its use of coal by 80%.

 United States

The US economy is heavily dependent on natural gas and oil, though coal is also important. Nuclear energy provides roughly the same power contribution as coal, though wind, solar, and hydroelectricity contribute. CO2 emissions are falling and have been doing so for the last ten years.


India, the third biggest CO2 emitter, is also heavily dependent on coal, producing 65% of its emissions, with oil and gas accounting for most of the rest. However, 23% of India's power is generated by renewables, and it aims to be carbon neutral by 2070.


Russia is second to the US in natural gas production, accounting for 20% of its GDP and 57% of its energy. However, the country aims to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050.

 United Kingdom

 The UK is the seventh-largest CO2 emissions contributor with relatively low per-capita emissions. However, renewables provide over half of the nation's energy. The country aims to achieve net-zero by 2050.

 Importing and exporting CO2 emissions

Suppose the UK or any other country achieves net zero emissions by its stated goal, yet continues to import goods from countries that remain carbon positive. Is it not unreasonable to claim net zero emissions? Effectively, importing such goods is equivalent to exporting emissions and does nothing to reduce climate change. A fairer assessment of the UK's carbon footprint should include CO2 emissions associated with imports.

China is significantly the largest CO2 exporter and exports five times as much CO2 as Russia, the second-largest CO2 exporter. On the other hand, the United States is the largest CO2 importer and imports twice as much as Japan, the second-largest CO2 importer. If we add these figures to domestic CO2 emissions, Chinese emissions will reduce by 13%, while US emissions will increase by 6%. Europe imports the equivalent of 30% of domestic emissions, with Switzerland being the most significant importer, increasing its effective emissions by a massive 209%. The chart below shows the world's largest importers and exporters of CO2.
Greenhouse gas emissions: Bricks and mortar versus...

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