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Emissions worldwide - Statistics & Facts

Energy demand has soared in recent decades as the global population has grown and economies have improved. The increased combustion of fossil fuels to meet this demand has seen annual global greenhouse gas emissions increase by 50 percent over the past 30 years to almost 50 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). Greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) trap heat within Earth’s atmosphere by absorbing energy and preventing heat from escaping into space. These gases can stay in the atmosphere for centuries and are driving climate change.

Main sources of emissions

The primary GHG emitted through human activities is CO2, which accounts for roughly 75 percent of GHG emissions. In 2020, global CO2 emissions totaled 35 Gt – a reduction of five percent compared with the previous year due to the impacts of COVID-19. The power industry accounted for 37 percent of CO2 emissions that year, making it the single largest source of CO2 emissions. The main reason for this is that most of the world’s power production comes from coal - the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Despite a COVID-19-related reduction, global coal emissions were still 14 GtCO2 in 2020. The second-largest source of CO2 is the transportation sector, which was responsible for 20 percent of emissions in 2020. Of this share, 41 percent came from passenger car emissions.

While the burning of fossil fuels is the primary source of CO2, land use activities such as deforestation and clearing land for agricultural purposes also releases large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Who contributes the most to global emissions?

Up until the mid-twentieth century, the majority of emissions from human activities had been produced in Europe and the United States – the latter of which is the biggest emitter in history by far. However, many more countries have industrialized since then, which has increased global energy consumption and therefore fossil fuel combustion. In recent decades, China’s rapid economic development has seen it take the place of the United States as the world’s largest emitter. The biggest factor for China’s soaring emissions is the country’s increased use of coal as an energy source. Coal emissions in China totaled 7.4 GtCO2 in 2020. China’s total emissions amounted to 10.7 GtCO2, which accounted for approximately 30 percent of global emissions that year. The top five largest emitters – China, the United States, India, Russia, and Japan – were responsible for almost 60 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2020.

Achieving net-zero emissions

Nations around the world have been targeting emission reductions for many years in a bid to combat the climate crisis. However, despite commitments to policies such as the Paris Agreement, emissions and atmospheric CO2 levels have continued to rise. Under the Paris Agreement, the world agreed to reduce GHG emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This would require emissions to drop to 26.6 Gt by 2030. In November 2021, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) took place. Although many countries set ambitious targets to reduce emissions, these pledges still fall short of the 1.5 degrees Celsius target.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 30 most important statistics relating to "Emissions worldwide".

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