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Emissions worldwide - Statistics & Facts

The increased combustion of fossil fuels for energy and industry have seen greenhouse gas emissions increase dramatically worldwide over the last century. Most recently in 2019, global carbon dioxide emissions reached a record high of 36 billion metric tons. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide 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, causing what is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect”. This has led to increasing global temperatures and a rapidly changing climate.
Fossil fuel combustion not only produces climate changing emissions, but also releases hazardous air pollutants. High concentrations of PM2.5 particulate matter is extremely harmful to human health, and one of the leading causes of premature deaths worldwide.

Where are emissions highest?

Up until the mid-twentieth century emissions from human activity were mostly confined to Europe and the United States. However, since then more and more countries have industrialized, specifically in Asia, increasing global energy consumption. In recent decades, China’s rapid development has seen it take the place of the United States as the world’s biggest emitter and in 2019 China produced more than 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. This was a quarter of the total global emissions produced that year. The main reason for China’s immense emissions is its heavy reliance on coal as an energy source. Coal combustion is a major source of emissions as it is the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Despite producing the most emissions each year, China’s per capita emissions are far lower than nations such as Australia and the United States, whose inhabitants have a carbon footprint of approximately 15 metric tons of CO2 a year. On average, CO2 emissions per capita worldwide are roughly five metric tons. Poorer nations typically have far lower carbon footprints than wealthier nations, yet often feel the ill-effects of climate change more.

Achieving net-zero emissions

Nations around the world have been targeting emission reductions for many years. However, despite commitments to policies such as the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise. There have been some successes, such as the shift to renewable energy and certain countries phasing out heavily polluting energy sources such as coal. Still, noticeable emission reductions have only occurred during major global events, which was the case in 2020 during the outbreak of COVID-19. The emission reductions in 2020 have seen calls for a green recovery, and several nations such as China have outlined ambitious plan for reaching net-zero emissions by the mid-century.

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