Visualizing Countries by Share of Earth’s Surface
There are over 510 million square kilometers of area on the surface of Earth, but less than 30% of this is covered by land. The rest is water, in the form of vast oceans.
Today’s visualization uses data primarily from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to rank the world’s countries by their share of Earth’s surface.
Breakdown of Countries Share of Earth’s Surface
The largest countries by surface area are Russia (3.35%), Canada (1.96%), and China (1.88%).
Together they occupy roughly 7.2% of Earth’s surface. Russia is so big that even if we divided the country between its Asian and European sections, those new regions would still be the largest in their respective continents.
|Country / Dependency||Total in km² (mi²)||Percentage of Earth's Surface|
|United States||9,525,067 (3,677,649)||1.867%|
|D.R. Congo||2,344,858 (905,355)||0.460%|
|Greenland (Denmark)||2,166,086 (836,330)||0.425%|
|Saudi Arabia||2,149,690 (830,000)||0.421%|
|South Africa||1,221,037 (471,445)||0.239%|
|South Sudan||644,329 (248,777)||0.126%|
|Central African Republic||622,984 (240,535)||0.122%|
|Papua New Guinea||462,840 (178,700)||0.091%|
|Republic of the Congo||342,000 (132,000)||0.067%|
|Ivory Coast||322,463 (124,504)||0.063%|
|Burkina Faso||274,222 (105,878)||0.054%|
|New Zealand||270,467 (104,428)||0.053%|
|United Kingdom||242,495 (93,628)||0.048%|
|North Korea||120,540 (46,540)||0.024%|
|South Korea||100,210 (38,690)||0.020%|
|United Arab Emirates||83,600 (32,300)||0.016%|
|Czech Republic||78,865 (30,450)||0.015%|
|Sierra Leone||71,740 (27,700)||0.014%|
|Sri Lanka||65,610 (25,330)||0.013%|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||51,209 (19,772)||0.010%|
|Costa Rica||51,100 (19,700)||0.010%|
|Dominican Republic||48,671 (18,792)||0.010%|
|Solomon Islands||28,896 (11,157)||0.006%|
|Equatorial Guinea||28,051 (10,831)||0.005%|
|North Macedonia||25,713 (9,928)||0.005%|
|El Salvador||21,041 (8,124)||0.004%|
|East Timor||14,919 (5,760)||0.003%|
|The Bahamas||13,943 (5,383)||0.003%|
|The Gambia||11,295 (4,361)||0.002%|
|State of Palestine||6,020 (2,320)||0.001%|
|Trinidad and Tobago||5,130 (1,980)||0.001%|
|Cape Verde||4,033 (1,557)||0.001%|
|São Tomé and Príncipe||964 (372)||0.000%|
|Federated States of Micronesia||702 (271)||0.000%|
|Saint Lucia||616 (238)||0.000%|
|Antigua and Barbuda||442 (171)||0.000%|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||389 (150)||0.000%|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||261 (101)||0.000%|
|Marshall Islands||181 (70)||0.000%|
|San Marino||61 (24)||0.000%|
|Vatican City||0.49 (0.19)||0.000%|
Antarctica, although not a country, covers the second largest amount of land overall at 2.75%. Meanwhile, the other nations that surpass the 1% mark for surface area include the United States (1.87%), Brazil (1.67%), and Australia (1.51%).
The remaining 195 countries and regions below 1%, combined, account for the other half of Earth’s land surface. Among the world’s smallest countries are the island nations of the Caribbean and the South Pacific Ocean. However, the tiniest of the tiny are Vatican City and Monaco, which combine for a total area of just 2.51 km².
The remaining 70% of Earth’s surface is water: 27% territorial waters and 43% international waters or areas beyond national jurisdiction.
Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction
In the past, nations adhered to the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine, a 17th century principle that limited jurisdiction over the oceans to a narrow area along a nation’s coastline. The rest of the seas did not belong to any nation and were free for countries to travel and exploit.
This situation lasted into the 20th century, but by mid-century there was an effort to extend national claims as competition for offshore resources became increasingly fierce and ocean pollution became an issue.
In 1982, the United Nations adopted the Law of the Sea Convention which extended international law over the extra-territorial waters. The convention established freedom-of-navigation rights and set territorial sea boundaries 12 miles (19 km) offshore with exclusive economic zones up to 200 miles (322 km) offshore, extending a country’s influence over maritime resources.
Does Size Matter?
The size of countries is the outcome of politics, economics, history, and geography. Put simply, borders can change over time.
In 1946, there were 76 independent countries in the world, and today there are 195. There are forces that push together or pull apart landscapes over time. While physical geography plays a role in the identity of nations, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of UAE, a tiny Gulf nation, put it best:
“A country is not measured by the size of its area on the map. A country is truly measured by its heritage and culture.”
Visualizing Global Per Capita CO2 Emissions
33.6 Gt of CO2 was emitted across the world in 2019. Here we visualize the global per capita CO2 emissions by country and region.
Highest Per Capita CO2 Emissions
Developing countries like China, India, and Russia are some of the highest producers of CO2 worldwide and will be so for a while. But the situation is far from straightforward—and looking at CO2 emissions per capita can add nuance to the overall story.
Let’s dive into the highest per capita carbon emitters and how they are trying to reduce their carbon contributions.
Leaders in Per Capita CO2 Emissions
Oil-producing countries in the Middle East are the highest emitters of CO2 on a per capita basis, but developed countries like the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada also have some of the higher rates of per capita emissions.
|Rank||Country or Region||Carbon Emissions Per Capita (t/year)|
|#1||Middle East A*||19.5|
|#5||Australia & New Zealand||13.6|
|#8||Kazakhstan & Turkmenistan||11.2|
*Middle East A group includes Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates
Canada and the United States have per capita carbon footprints of 15.2 and 14.4 tonnes per year, respectively. Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand combine for an average per capita footprint of over 13.6 tonnes per year.
It’s worth noting that all of these numbers are more than three times higher than the global average, which in 2019 was 4.4 tonnes per person.
Energy Sources and Per Capita CO2 Emissions
Since there is a strong relationship between wealth and per capita CO2 emissions, we’d expect countries with high living standards to have a high carbon footprint.
But the data above shows significant differences in per capita emissions, even between countries with similar living standards. Many countries across Europe, for example, have much lower emissions than the U.S., Canada, or Australia.
Here’s a look at the top 25 countries by standard of living and their share of electricity production from fossil fuels:
|Rank||Country||Per Capita Electricity|
|% Electricity Production
(from fossil fuels)
|11||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||4,500||40.7%|
|13||🇰🇷 South Korea||10,458||65.8%|
|14||🇺🇸 United States||12,235||60.1%|
|22||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||7,534||50.7%|
|24||🇳🇿 New Zealand||8,880||18.9%|
The choice of energy sources plays a key role here. In the UK, Portugal, and France, a much higher share of electricity is produced from nuclear and renewable sources.
For example, only 9.5% of France’s electricity production comes from fossil fuels, compared to other developed countries like the U.S. at 60.1% and Japan at 69.1%.
G20 Countries and Carbon Emissions
This reliance on fossil fuels for energy production extends to the rest of the G20 countries. According to the Climate Transparency Report, CO2 emissions will rise by 4% across the G20 group this year, dropping 6% in 2020 due to the pandemic.
This rise is mainly due to the increase in coal consumption across these countries. Coal consumption is projected to rise by almost 5% in 2021, with this growth driven by China (accounting for 61% of the growth), the U.S. (18%), and India (17%).
Here’s a look at the current coal power capacity of each G20 country:
Coal use in China has surged, with the country experiencing increased demand for energy as the global economy has recovered. Coal prices are up nearly 200% from a year ago.
Plans to Tackle Emissions
The conclusion of the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow saw several pledges and announcements being made by various countries. Here are some of the highlights:
- The world’s biggest CO2 emitters, the U.S. and China, pledged to cooperate more over the next decade in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy.
- Leaders from more than 100 countries—with about 85% of the world’s forests—promised to stop deforestation by 2030.
- More than 100 countries agreed upon a scheme to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030.
- Financial organizations have agreed to back renewable energy and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.
Many countries have pledged to do their part to tackle climate change. It will be an impressive display of global unity if global CO2 emissions drop significantly over the next decade.
Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth
The amount of human-made (or anthropogenic) mass, has now exceeded the weight of all life on Earth, including humans, animals, and plants.
Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth
The world is not getting any bigger but the human population continues to grow, consuming more and more resources and altering the very environment we rely on.
In 2020, the amount of human-made mass, or anthropogenic mass, exceeded for the first time the dry weight (except for water and fluids) of all life on Earth, including humans, animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms.
In this infographic based on a study published in Nature, we break down the composition of all human-made materials and the rate of their production.
A Man-made Planet
Anthropogenic mass is defined as the mass embedded in inanimate solid objects made by humans that have not been demolished or taken out of service—which is separately defined as anthropogenic mass waste.
Over the past century or so, human-made mass has increased rapidly, doubling approximately every 20 years. The collective mass of these materials has gone from 3% of the world’s biomass in 1900 to being on par with it today.
While we often overlook the presence of raw materials, they are what make the modern economy possible. To build roads, houses, buildings, printer paper, coffee mugs, computers, and all other human-made things, it requires billions of tons of fossil fuels, metals and minerals, wood, and agricultural products.
The rate of accumulation for anthropogenic mass has now reached 30 gigatons (Gt)—equivalent to 30 billion metric tons—per year, based on the average for the past five years. This corresponds to each person on the globe producing more than his or her body weight in anthropogenic mass every week.
At the top of the list is concrete. Used for building and infrastructure, concrete is the second most used substance in the world, after water.
|Human-Made Mass||Description||1900 (mass/Gt)||1940 (mass/Gt)||1980 (mass/Gt)||2020 (mass/Gt)|
|Concrete||Used for building and infrastructure, including cement, gravel and sand||2||10||86||549|
|Aggregates||Gravel and sand, mainly used as bedding for roads and buildings||17||30||135||386|
|Bricks||Mostly composed of clay and used for constructions||11||16||28||92|
|Asphalt||Bitumen, gravel and sand, used mainly for road construction/pavement||0||1||22||65|
|Metals||Mostly iron/steel, aluminum and copper||1||3||13||39|
|Other||Solid wood products, paper/paperboard, container and flat glass and plastic||4||6||11||23|
Bricks and aggregates like gravel and sand also represent a big part of human-made mass.
Although small compared to other materials in our list, the mass of plastic we’ve made is greater than the overall mass of all terrestrial and marine animals combined.
As the rate of growth of human-made mass continues to accelerate, it could become triple the total amount of global living biomass by 2040.
Can We Work It Out?
While the mass of humans is only about 0.01% of all biomass, our impact is like no other form of life on Earth. We are one of the few species that can alter the environment to the point of affecting all life.
At the current pace, the reserves of some materials like fossil fuels and minerals could run out in less than 100 years. As a result, prospectors are widening their search as they seek fresh sources of raw materials, exploring places like the Arctic, the deep sea, and even asteroids.
As the world population continues to increase, so does the pressure on the natural environment. It is an unavoidable fact that consumption will increase, but in an era of net-zero policies and carbon credits, accounting for the human impact on the environment will be more important than ever.
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