Visualizing Changes in CO₂ Emissions Since 1900
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Visualizing Changes in CO₂ Emissions Since 1900

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Visualizing Changes in CO₂ Emissions Since 1900

Visualizing CO₂ Emissions Since 1900

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Leaders from all over the world are currently gathering at the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27) in Egypt to discuss climate action, and to negotiate the commitments being made by countries to the global climate agenda.

This visualization based on data from the Global Carbon Project shows the changes in global fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from 1900 to 2020, putting the challenge of fighting climate change into perspective.

Cumulative CO₂ Emissions vs. Rate of Change

Global climate change is primarily caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas release large amounts of CO₂ when burned or used in industrial processes.

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), emissions were very low. However, with the increased use of fossil fuels to power machines, emissions rose to 6 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year globally by 1950. The amount had almost quadrupled by 1990, reaching a rate of over 22 billion tonnes per year.

Currently, the world emits over 34 billion tonnes of CO₂ each year. Since 1751, the world has emitted over 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO₂ cumulatively.

Cumulative CO2 Emissions

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, average global growth in fossil CO₂ emissions had slowed to 0.9% annually during the 2010s, reaching 36.7 gigatons of CO₂ added to the atmosphere in 2019.

However, in 2020, global lockdowns led to the biggest decrease in CO₂ emissions ever seen in absolute terms. Global fossil CO₂ emissions decreased by 5.2% to 34.8 gigatons, mainly due to halts in aviation, surface transport, power generation, and manufacturing during the pandemic.

Since then, emissions have approached pre-pandemic levels, reaching 36.2 gigatons added to the atmosphere in 2021.

Biggest Emitters, by Country

Asia, led by China, is the largest emitter, with the continent accounting for more than half of global emissions.

RankCountry 2020 CO₂ Emissions
(Millions of metric tons)
#1🇨🇳 China 10,668
#2🇺🇸 United States4,713
#3🇮🇳 India 2,442
#4🇷🇺 Russia 1,577
#5🇯🇵 Japan 1,031
#6🇮🇷 Iran745
#7🇩🇪 Germany644
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia626
#9🇰🇷 South Korea598
#10🇮🇩 Indonesia590
#11🇨🇦 Canada536
#12🇧🇷 Brazil467
#13🇿🇦 South Africa 452
#14🇹🇷 Turkey 393
#15🇦🇺 Australia 392

CO₂ emissions from developing economies already account for more than two-thirds of global emissions, while emissions from advanced economies are in a structural decline.

Coal Power Generation Set for Record Increase

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, more than 130 countries have now set or are considering a target of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.

Much of the slowdown in emissions growth in the 2010s was attributable to the substitution of coal—the fuel that contributes most to planet-warming emissions—with gas and renewables. In addition, during the previous COP26 held in Glasgow, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.

Despite that, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally and is set for a new record in 2022 as consumption surged in Europe to replace shortfalls in hydro, nuclear, and Russian natural gas.

As leaders meet in Egypt for the world’s largest gathering on climate action, it will be up to them to come up with a plan for making their environmental aspirations a reality.

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The Biggest Carbon Emitters, By Sector

The manufacturing and construction sector contributed to 6.3 billion tonnes of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

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The following content is sponsored by Northstar Clean Technologies

The Biggest Carbon Emitters, By Sector

It’s no secret that greenhouse gas emissions need to decrease drastically in order to fight the effects of climate change.

As countries across the globe ramp up efforts to reduce global warming, every industry needs to do its part. So who’s lagging and who’s leading?

Although often less discussed, the manufacturing and construction sector is a large contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The above graphic from Northstar Clean Technologies takes a look at the biggest contributors by sector in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

Breakdown Of Emissions

The manufacturing and construction sector is a growing one, and as population and infrastructure expand, it’s vital that we take all actionable paths to reduce emissions.

Manufacturing and construction contributed to 6.3 billion tonnes of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Let’s look at the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions by sector over the years from Our World In Data.

In 2019 electricity and heat were the biggest carbon emitters, while transport came in second place.

Manufacturing and construction overtook the agriculture sector in 2007 to become the third largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Building a Solution

One solution to reducing the impact of the manufacturing and construction sector is to repurpose materials. This reduces emissions and waste while also being both energy and cost-efficient.

Take a material like asphalt shingles as an example. This product is found on the roofs of approximately 75% of single-family detached homes in the U.S. and Canada.

In 2018, 86% of total asphalt shingles waste was dumped in landfills where they do not decompose or biodegrade. Reusing and recycling existing materials like asphalt shingles is a vital step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the industry.

Northstar Clean Technologies repurposes the three primary components of asphalt shingles which are then recycled back into the market.

By reprocessing asphalt shingles into three primary components, Northstar’s clean technology has been shown to reduce CO₂ emissions by 60% compared to virgin production of liquid asphalt.

Click to learn how Northstar Clean Technologies is becoming one of the top material recovery providers in North America.

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Mapped: Carbon Dioxide Emissions Around the World

This graphic maps out carbon emissions around the world and where they come from, using data from the European Commission.

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mapping carbon dioxide emissions worldwide

Mapped: Carbon Dioxide Emissions Around the World

According to Our World in Data, the global population emits about 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) each year.

Where does all this CO₂ come from? This graphic by Adam Symington maps out carbon emissions around the world, using 2018 data from the European Commission that tracks tonnes of CO₂ per 0.1 degree grid (roughly 11 square kilometers).

This type of visualization allows us to clearly see not just population centers, but flight paths, shipping lanes, and high production areas. Let’s take a closer look at some of these concentrated (and brightly lit) regions on the map.

China, India, and the Indian Ocean

As the two most populated countries and economic forces, China and India are both significant emitters of CO₂. China in particular accounts for about 27% of global CO₂ emissions.

And looking at the oceans, we see how much shipping adds to emissions, with many shipping lanes east of China clearly outlined as well as the major Indian Ocean lane between the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal.

The United States and Central America

The United States is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters. While other countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia technically have higher emissions per capita, their overall emissions are relatively low due to smaller populations.

Across the U.S., the most brightly lit areas are major population centers like the Boston-Washington corridor, the Bay Area, and the Great Lakes. But also lit up are many of the interconnecting highways linking all these population centers, even in the less-populated middle of the country.

With so much traffic in and out of the U.S., the oceans become a murky mix of shipping and flight paths. To the south, very clearly visible is the major concentration of people around Mexico City and the traffic flowing through the Panama Canal.

South America’s Network of Emissions

Like the other regions, some of South America’s most populated areas are also the biggest emitters, such as São Paulo and Rio in Brazil and Buenos Aires in Argentina. This map also highlights the continent’s rough terrain, with most of the population and highway emissions limited to the coasts.

However, the cities aren’t the only big emitters in the region. There are clear lines intersecting the Amazon forest in many sections where cities and roads were constructed, including the economic hub city of Manaus along the Amazon River. Likewise, the oceans have many major shipping lanes highlighted, particularly East of Brazil.

Europe and North Africa

Germany is one of Europe’s biggest carbon emitters—in 2021, the country generated almost 644 million tonnes of CO₂.

Also making an impression are Italy (which is the second-highest CO₂ emitter after Germany) and the UK, as well the significant amount of trade along the English Channel.

Compared to the intricate network of cities, towns, and bustling highways spanning Europe, across the Mediterranean are far clearer and simpler lines of activity in Northern Africa. Two major exceptions are in the Middle-East, where Egypt’s Nile River and Suez Canal are massively lit up, as well as Israel on the east of the sea.

But a more significant (albeit murkier) picture is drawn by the massive amounts of shipping and flight paths illuminating the Atlantic and Mediterranean at large.

Net Zero by 2050

To mitigate the negative effects of climate change, countries around the world have made commitments to reach net-zero emissions.

Imagining the global map of emissions with these commitments in action requires a complete transformation of energy production, consumption habits, transportation infrastructure, and more. And even then, a future generated map wouldn’t be fully dark, as “net-zero” is not equivalent to zero emissions but a balance of emissions and removal.

How might this map of global emissions look in the near and distant future? And what other interesting insights can you generate by browsing the world this way?

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