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Transportation emissions worldwide - statistics & facts

Increasing populations and improving economies worldwide means hundreds of millions of cars are now on the road emitting vast quantities of greenhouse gases every year. Tourism and globalization have also increased emissions from aviation and shipping, with more and more people and goods constantly on the move. Transportation is now the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. Since 1990, transportation greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 30 percent to more than eight billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and now account for roughly a quarter of total CO2 emissions worldwide, behind only the power sector.

Where are transportation emissions highest?

Each year the United States produces the largest volume of transportation emissions worldwide, which in 2018 totaled 1.76 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This was roughly twice the volume of CO2 emissions produced by China’s transportation sector – the second biggest emitter. While transportation emissions in the U.S. remain the highest by far, they have increased by just five percent in the last decade. In comparison, emissions from transportation in China have increased by 40 percent since 2010 and tenfold since 1990.
Rapid economic development in China, and countries such as India have led to a surge in transportation emissions in the Asia-Pacific region, and in 2017 they surpassed those produced in North America for the first time. Transportation emissions in Africa and the Middle East have also seen dramatic increases in in recent decades. Whilst those in North America and Europe have started to rise again in recent years, they have slowed down.

Main sources of transportation emissions

Presently, road passenger vehicles account for roughly 45 percent of total transport emissions worldwide. With the sheer number of cars on the road, estimated to be more than a billion, this is not a surprise. In comparison, road freight vehicle emissions contribute to 30 percent of the total despite there being significantly less. In 2020, just 64 million heavy-duty and medium-duty trucks emitted approximately 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 worldwide. Meanwhile, aviation makes up roughly 12 percent of transport emissions and about two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. On average, domestic flights have the most significant carbon footprint of transportation modes. Aside from walking and cycling, the most efficient way to travel is by rail.

Reducing transport emissions

With transportation a major contributor to climate change, it is important for the sector to reduce its emissions. Over the years, regulations, and standards to limit emissions have come into effect, such as introducing automotive catalytic converters. However, emissions from this sector have continued to rise. For the sector to experience significant reductions and mitigate the effects of climate change, a transition to low-carbon fuels is needed, and a change in how people travel.

Interesting statistics

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Transportation emissions worldwide

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Country emissions

Road transport




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