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.
Ranked: Nuclear Power Production, by Country
Nuclear power accounted for 10% of global electricity generated in 2020. Here’s a look at the largest nuclear power producers.
Nuclear Power Production by Country
Nearly 450 reactors around the world supply various nations with nuclear power, combining for about 10% of the world’s electricity, or about 4% of the global energy mix.
But while some countries are turning to nuclear as a clean energy source, nuclear energy generation overall has seen a slowdown since its peak in the 1990s.
The above infographic breaks down nuclear electricity generation by country in 2020 using data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).
Ranked: The Top 15 Countries for Nuclear Power
Just 15 countries account for more than 91% of global nuclear power production. Here’s how much energy these countries produced in 2020:
|Rank||Country||Number of Operating Reactors||Nuclear Electricity Supplied|
|#5||South Korea 🇰🇷||24||152,583||6.0%|
|Rest of the World 🌎||44||207,340||8.1%|
In the U.S., nuclear power produces over 50% of the country’s clean electricity. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 96 operating reactors in 2020 received approvals for a 20-year life extension.
China, the world’s second-largest nuclear power producer, is investing further in nuclear energy in a bid to achieve its climate goals. The plan, which includes building 150 new reactors by 2035, could cost as much as $440 billion.
On the other hand, European opinions on nuclear energy are mixed. Germany is the eighth-largest on the list but plans to shutter its last operating reactor in 2022 as part of its nuclear phase-out. France, meanwhile, plans to expand its nuclear capacity.
Which Countries Rely Most on Nuclear Energy?
Although total electricity generation is useful for a high-level global comparison, it’s important to remember that there are some smaller countries not featured above where nuclear is still an important part of the electricity mix.
Here’s a breakdown based on the share of nuclear energy in a country’s electricity mix:
|Rank||Country||Nuclear Share of Electricity Mix|
|#13||South Korea 🇰🇷||29.6%|
|#17||United States 🇺🇸||19.7%|
|#19||United Kingdom 🇬🇧||14.5%|
European countries dominate the leaderboard with 14 of the top 15 spots, including France, where nuclear power is the country’s largest source of electricity.
It’s interesting to note that only a few of these countries are top producers of nuclear in absolute terms. For example, in Slovakia, nuclear makes up 53.6% of the electricity mix—however, the country’s four reactors make up less than 1% of total global operating capacity.
On the flipside, the U.S. ranks 17th by share of nuclear power in its mix, despite producing 31% of global nuclear electricity in 2020. This discrepancy is largely due to size and population. European countries are much smaller and produce less electricity overall than larger countries like the U.S. and China.
The Future of Nuclear Power
The nuclear power landscape is constantly changing.
There were over 50 additional nuclear reactors under construction in 2020, and hundreds more are planned primarily in Asia.
As countries turn away from fossil fuels and embrace carbon-free energy sources, nuclear energy might see a resurgence in the global energy mix despite the phase-outs planned in several countries around the globe.
Mapped: 30 Years of Deforestation and Forest Growth, by Country
Where are the world’s forests still shrinking, and where are they seeing net gains? We map deforestation by country between 1990-2020.
Global Deforestation and Forest Growth over 30 Years
Forests are the great carbon capturers of our planet, and they are a key source of wildlife habitats and vital resources for people around the world.
But deforestation is threatening this natural infrastructure, releasing carbon into the atmosphere while simultaneously reducing wildlife diversity and making our environment more susceptible to environmental disasters.
This graphic looks at global deforestation and forest growth over the past 30 years, mapping out the net forest change by country and region using data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The State of Deforestation by Region
Today, forests make up around 31% of the Earth’s total land area, spanning 15.68 million square miles (40.6 million km²). Over the past three decades, the world lost a bit more than 4% (685,300 square miles) of its forests, which equates to an area about half the size of India.
Europe and Asia were the only two regions which had significant overall forest growth during this time period, while Oceania saw no significant change and North and Central America saw a slight reduction.
|Region||Forest area change (1990-2020)||Percentage change in forest area|
|Asia||+146,718 sq mi||+6.64%|
|Europe||+88,803 sq mi||+2.34%|
|Oceania||+1,057 sq mi||+0.0015%|
|North America and Central America||-7,722 sq mi||-0.34%|
|South America and the Caribbean||-501,932 sq mi||-13.30%|
|Africa||-409,268 sq mi||-14.29%|
|Global total||-685,401 sq mi||-4.19%|
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Africa along with South America and the Caribbean were the regions with the greatest amount of net forest loss, both losing more than 13% of their forests over the past 30 years. This is largely because these two regions have large amounts of forest area available, with the underlying land in high demand for agriculture and cattle-raising.
Although the overall forest loss around the world is massive, the rate of forest loss has slowed down over the past three decades. While an average of 30,116 square miles were lost each year between 1990 to 2000, between 2010 to 2020 that number has dropped to 18,146 square miles, showing that the rate of overall loss has fallen by almost 40%.
The Countries and Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Growth
Despite an overall slowing down of forest loss, certain countries in South America along with the entirety of Africa are still showing an increase in the rate of forest loss. It’s in these regions where most of the countries with the largest reduction in forest area are located:
|Country||Net change in forest area (1990-2020)||Percentage change in forest area|
|Brazil||-356,287 sq mi||-15.67%|
|Indonesia||-101,977 sq mi||-22.28%|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||-94,495 sq mi||-16.25%|
|Angola||-48,865 sq mi||-15.97%|
|Tanzania||-44,962 sq mi||-20.29%|
|Myanmar||-41,213 sq mi||-27.22%|
|Paraguay||-36,463 sq mi||-36.97%|
|Bolivia||-26,915 sq mi||-12.06%|
|Mozambique||-25,614 sq mi||-15.29%|
|Argentina||-25,602 sq mi||-18.84%|
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization
Brazil, home to most of the Amazon rainforest, saw 356,287 square miles of net forest loss, largely fueled by farmers using the land to raise cattle for beef. It’s estimated that 80% of the deforested land area of the Amazon has been replaced with pastures, with the resulting beef production known to be among the worst meats for the environment in terms of carbon emissions.
The other great driver of deforestation is seed and palm oil agriculture. These oils account for about 20% of the world’s deforestation carbon emissions, and their production concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia is now expanding to other Asian countries along with Africa.
While the demand for beef and palm oils drives deforestation, initiatives like the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) are providing incentives to protect forest land.
Select countries in the European Union along with the United Kingdom and South Korea have committed $494.7 million to six central African nations (Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo) for them to preserve their forests and pursue low emission pathways for sustainable development. The initiative has seen $202 million transferred thus far and an anticipated reduction of 75 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Forests and the Climate Crisis
It’s estimated that forests absorb around 30% of the world’s carbon emissions each year, making them the greatest and most important carbon sinks we have on land. When you pair this with the fact that deforestation contributes around 12% of annual greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of forest preservation becomes even more clear.
But we often forget how much forests protect our environment by acting as natural buffers against extreme weather. Forests increase and ensure rainfall security, making nearby land areas significantly less susceptible to wildfires and natural droughts in hot and dry seasons along with flooding and landslides in wet seasons.
With every dollar invested in landscape restoration yielding up to $30 in benefits, reducing deforestation and investing in reforestation is considered an effective way to reduce the difficulty and costs of meeting climate and environmental protection goals. This is without even considering the benefits of maintaining the world’s largest wildlife habitat and source of species diversity, the home of the nearly 70 million indigenous people who live in forests, and the livelihood of 1.6 billion people who rely on forests every day.
Preserving and Regrowing Forests for the Future
Despite the short-term acceleration in forest loss seen in 2020, there have been positive signs about forest regrowth coming to light. A recent study found that previously deforested land can recuperate its soil fertility in about a decade, and layered plants, trees, and species diversity can recover in around 25-60 years.
Along with this, in some instances these regrowing “secondary forests” can absorb more carbon dioxide than “primary forests”, giving hope that a global reforestation effort can absorb more emissions than previously thought possible.
From better financial incentives for local farmers and ranchers to preserve forest area to larger scale policies and initiatives like CAFI, curbing deforestation and promoting reforestation requires a global effort. Reversing forest loss in the coming decades is a daunting but necessary step towards stabilizing the climate and preserving the environment that billions of animals and people rely on.
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