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.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
What are the safest energy sources? This graphic shows both GHG emissions and accidental deaths caused by different energy sources.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
Recent conversations about climate change, emissions, and health have put a spotlight on the world’s energy sources.
As of 2021, nearly 90% of global CO₂ emissions came from fossil fuels. But energy production doesn’t just lead to carbon emissions, it can also cause accidents and air pollution that has a significant toll on human life.
This graphic by Ruben Mathisen uses data from Our World in Data to help visualize exactly how safe or deadly these energy sources are.
Fossil Fuels are the Highest Emitters
All energy sources today produce greenhouse gases either directly or indirectly. However, the top three GHG-emitting energy sources are all fossil fuels.
|Energy||GHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)|
|Natural Gas||490 tonnes|
Coal produces 820 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) per gigawatt-hour. Not far behind is oil, which produces 720 tonnes CO₂e per gigawatt-hour. Meanwhile, natural gas produces 490 tonnes of CO₂e per gigawatt-hour.
These three sources contribute to over 60% of the world’s energy production.
Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.
|Energy Sources||Death rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)|
According to Our World in Data, air pollution and accidents from mining and burning coal fuels account for around 25 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity—roughly the amount consumed by about 150,000 EU citizens in one year. The same measurement sees oil responsible for 18 annual deaths, and natural gas causing three annual deaths.
Meanwhile, hydropower, which is the most widely used renewable energy source, causes one annual death per 150,000 people. The safest energy sources by far are wind, solar, and nuclear energy at fewer than 0.1 annual deaths per terawatt-hour.
Nuclear energy, because of the sheer volume of electricity generated and low amount of associated deaths, is one of the world’s safest energy sources, despite common perceptions.
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