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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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