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A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

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A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

In a few decades, greenhouse gases (GHGs)—chiefly in the form of CO₂ emissions—have risen at unprecedented rates as a result of global growth and resource consumption.

To uncover the major sectors where these emissions originate, this graphic from Our World in Data pulls the latest data from 2016 courtesy of Climate Watch and the World Resources Institute, when total emissions reached 49.4 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalents (CO₂e).

Sources of GHG Emissions

Global GHG emissions can be roughly traced back to four broad categories: energy, agriculture, industry, and waste. Overwhelmingly, almost three-quarters of GHG emissions come from our energy consumption.

SectorGlobal GHG Emissions Share
Energy Use73.2%
Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use18.4%
Industrial processes5.2%
Waste3.2%

Within each category, there are even more granular breakdowns to consider. We’ll take a closer look at the top two, which collectively account for over 91% of global GHG emissions.

Energy Use

Within this broad category, we can further break things down into sub-categories like transport, buildings, and industry-related energy consumption, to name a few.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions ShareFurther breakdown
Transport16.2%• Road 11.9%
• Aviation 1.9%
• Rail 0.4%
• Pipeline 0.3%
• Ship 1.7%
Buildings17.5%• Residential 10.9%
• Commercial 6.6%
Industry energy24.2%• Iron & Steel 7.2%
• Non-ferrous metals 0.7%
• Machinery 0.5%
• Food and tobacco 1.0%
• Paper, pulp & printing 0.6%
• Chemical & petrochemical (energy) 3.6%
• Other industry 10.6%
Agriculture & Fishing energy1.7%-
Unallocated fuel combustion7.8%-
Fugitive emissions from energy production5.8%• Coal 1.9%
• Oil & Natural Gas 3.9%
Total73.2%

Billions of people rely on petrol and diesel-powered vehicles to get around. As a result, they contribute to almost 12% of global emissions.

But this challenge is also an opportunity: the consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could significantly help shift the world away from fossil fuel use, both for passenger travel and for freight—although there are still speedbumps to overcome.

Meanwhile, buildings contribute 17.5% of energy-related emissions overall—which makes sense when you realize the stunning fact that cities use 60-80% of the world’s annual energy needs. With megacities (home to 10+ million people) ballooning every day to house the growing urban population, these shares may rise even further.

Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use

The second biggest category of emissions is the sector that we rely on daily for the food we eat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, methane from cows and other livestock contribute the most to emissions, at 5.8% total. These foods also have some of the highest carbon footprints, from farm to table.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions Share
Livestock & Manure5.8%
Agricultural Soils4.1%
Crop Burning3.5%
Forest Land2.2%
Cropland1.4%
Rice Cultivation1.3%
Grassland0.1%
Total18.4%

Another important consideration is just how much land our overall farming requirements take up. When significant areas of forest are cleared for grazing and cropland, there’s a clear link between our land use and rising global emissions.

Although many of these energy systems are still status quo, the global energy mix is ripe for change. As the data shows, the potential points of disruption have become increasingly clear as the world moves towards a green energy revolution.

For a different view on global emissions data, see which countries generate the most CO₂ emissions per capita.

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Charted: Share of World Forests by Country

We visualize which countries have the biggest share of world forests by area—and while country size plays a factor, so too, does the environment.

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A cropped pie chart showing the share of world forest by country.

Charted: Share of World Forests by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The world contains over three trillion trees.

The tropics and subtropics account for slightly less than half of all trees (1.3 trillion), the boreal regions for about one-fourth (0.74 trillion) and the temperate regions about one-fifth of the world’s forests (0.66 trillion).

What does this look like on a per country basis?

Using data from the World Bank, we visualize the share of the world’s total forest area per country.

Naturally larger countries tend to have more forest area, and thus, a greater percentage of the world’s forests, but it’s interesting to see how local environments also influence the metric.

Ranked: Countries with the Largest Share of World Forests

At the top of the list, Russia, has more than one-fifth of the world’s forests by itself. This is equal to 8 million km2 of forest, slightly less than half of the entire country.

RankCountryForest Area (Sq. km)Forest Area (% of
World's Forests)
1🇷🇺 Russia8,153,11620.1%
2🇧🇷 Brazil4,953,91412.3%
3🇨🇦 Canada3,468,9118.6%
4🇺🇸 U.S.3,097,9507.7%
5🇨🇳 China2,218,5785.5%
6🇦🇺 Australia1,340,0513.3%
7🇨🇩 DRC1,250,5393.1%
8🇮🇩 Indonesia915,2772.3%
9🇮🇳 India724,2641.8%
10🇵🇪 Peru721,5751.8%
11🇦🇴 Angola660,5231.6%
12🇲🇽 Mexico655,6431.6%
13🇨🇴 Colombia589,4261.5%
14🇧🇴 Bolivia506,2081.3%
15🇻🇪 Venezuela461,7341.1%
16🇹🇿 Tanzania452,7601.1%
17🇿🇲 Zambia446,2581.1%
18🇲🇿 Mozambique364,9760.9%
19🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea358,2220.9%
20🇦🇷 Argentina284,6370.7%

The fifth-biggest (and sixth-most populated) country, Brazil, ranks second with slightly more than 12% of total forests, close to 5 million km2, which is more than 60% of the whole country. The biggest contributor to its forest cover is the Amazon, which has lost 237,000 km2 in the span of five years because of deforestation. The Amazon is also a significant part of Peru’s forest cover (ranked 10th on this list, with 1.8% share).

Canada and the U.S. each have about 8% of the world’s forests within their borders. Both countries have developed beloved national park systems aimed at protecting the natural biodiversity of the continent.

China rounds out the top five, with its 5.5% share. Unlike other nations whose forest cover has seen a steady decline, China managed to increase its forest area by 511,807 km2 in two and a half decades, an area that is bigger than the entirety of Thailand. The country also aims to have about 30% of the country covered by forests by 2050. Critics state that this massive reforestation drive might come at the cost of maintaining natural tree species, and instead promotes monocultures of non-native trees.

Meanwhile, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) each share 3% of the world’s forests. The Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical rainforest, contributes heavily to the latter’s forest cover, and spreads out over five other countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Indonesia, India, and Peru round out the top 10 with a 2% share each.

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