May 2, 2022


Top 5 Carbon Emitters by Country

Top 5 Carbon Emitters by Country

The world is emitting more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than ever before, and countries have been struggling to meet their targets set in the Paris Agreement. According to the European Union's Joint Research Centre, the total global CO2 footprint increased from 34.1 GT in 2010 to 37.9 GT—an all-time high—in 2019.

Greenhouse gas GHG emissions come from a variety of sources, including transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and electricity generation.

The countries with the largest carbon footprints are often those with large populations and high levels of industrialisation. China, the United States, and India are three of the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for nearly half of all emissions. Russia and Japan are also in the top 5 carbon-emitting countries.

If you are curious about the types of greenhouse gas emissions and why these are the top carbon-emitting countries, then this article is for you. We'll look into countries with high carbon footprints, carbon emitters by economic sector, the carbon footprint per capita by country, and the types of GHGs being emitted.

Carbon footprint by country
Country footprint by country. Source: World Population Review.

What are carbon emissions?

First, let's define what carbon emissions are. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs, such as methane and nitrous oxide, are released into the atmosphere by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and raising livestock. These activities release carbon dioxide, which can stay in the atmosphere for up to 200 years, where it traps heat and causes climate change.

What is causing the most carbon emissions?

The main sources of carbon emissions appear to be from the burning of fossil fuels and from raising livestock. The burning of coal, oil, and gas for energy releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the raising of livestock emits methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Other sources of carbon emissions include transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture. Transportation is a major source of carbon emissions, especially from cars and airplanes.

Manufacturing industries also produce large amounts of carbon emissions, as do the agricultural sector through activities such as deforestation and fertiliser use.

Let's have a closer look at carbon emissions by sector.

GHG Emissions by economic sector

Different carbon emitters by economic sector vary a lot regionally because of the resources and needs of each country. Globally, CO2 makes up 76% of GHG emissions. The sectors that generate the most emissions are:

  • Electricity and Heat: 25%
  • Agriculture: 24%
  • Industry: 21%
  • Transportation: 14%
  • Other Energy: 10%
  • Buildings: 6%
global ghgs by economic sector pie chart

Harm and consequences of carbon emissions

The harmful and devastating effects of carbon emissions on the environment are well known. Carbon emissions are a major contributor to climate change, which has been linked to a wide range of adverse effects, including:

  • Disrupting the Earth's climate, leading to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts
  • Destroying natural habitats and contributing to the extinction of plant and animal species
  • Causing health problems from air pollution, including respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer

In addition, carbon emissions are responsible for about one-third of global greenhouse GHG gas emissions, making them a major player in climate change. The more we emit, the greater the risk we take of catastrophic consequences for both people and the planet.

Recommended reading:

If you would like to know more about how to prevent climate change within your organisation, please check out our academy and downloadable resources:

• Article: Carbon Emissions in the Atmosphere and the Methods of Abating Emissions
• Article: Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States
• Article: Top Countries in the Race to Net Zero Emissions
• Article: What is Net Zero?
• Article: 11 Reasons Net0 Is the Best Carbon Accounting Platform

Countries' carbon footprint

The world's countries vary greatly in their contribution to global CO2 footprint. Some, like China and the United States, are large emitters, while others, like Norway and Costa Rica, have much smaller footprints.

Understanding a country's carbon footprint is important because it can reveal a lot about that country's environmental impact.

By measuring and reducing their carbon footprints, countries can take steps to mitigate these harmful effects. In addition to understanding their own emissions levels, countries can work together to reduce global CO2 footprint by sharing best practices and strategies for reducing emissions. This type of cooperation is essential for meeting the targets set in the Paris Agreement and avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

Factors that affect global greenhouse gas emissions

There are a number of factors that affect global greenhouse GHG gas emissions. These include population growth, economic development, energy use, and land-use patterns, deforestation and agriculture activities, technology and policies.

  • Population growth: As the world's population continues to grow, so does the demand for goods and services. This increased demand leads to more production and consumption, which in turn results in more emissions.
  • Economic development: As countries develop economically, they tend to use more energy and resources, which results in higher emissions. Developing countries are often able to offset some of these emissions through increased efficiency and the use of cleaner technologies. However, as these countries continue to grow, their footprint is expected to increase as well.
  • Energy use: The way we produce and use energy is a major driver of emissions. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, releases GHGs into the atmosphere. In addition, the production and transport of these fuels can also result in high carbon footprint. Countries that rely heavily on fossil fuel emissions tend to have a larger carbon footprint. Some of the countries that rely most on fossil fuels for their energy needs are the United States, China, and India. In order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, countries need to shift away from reliance on fossil fuels. This will require a concerted effort from all countries, as well as investment in renewable energy sources.
  • Land-use patterns: Land-use patterns play a role in emissions and it is essential to manage land in a more sustainable way. This includes protecting forests and promoting the use of sustainable agricultural practices. In addition, land-use patterns can also affect the ability of the land to absorb carbon dioxide, which can either increase or decrease emissions.
  • Deforestation: Deforestation is a major driver of carbon footprint, as it releases stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition, it can also lead to soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. Deforestation is often caused by the conversion of forests to agricultural land or urban development.
  • Agricultural activities: Agricultural activities, such as livestock farming and crop production, can also result in emissions. For example, livestock farming emits methane, a potent GHG, while crop production can lead to emissions of nitrous oxide.
  • Technology: Technology plays a role in emissions, as well. More efficient technologies can enable emission reduction, while cleaner technologies can help to offset them. For example, the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, can lead to emission cuts. In addition, the use of electric vehicles can also help with reducing emissions. Technology can be a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. More efficient technologies can help to reduce emissions, while cleaner technologies can help to offset them. The use of renewable energy sources and electric vehicles are two examples of how technology can be used for carbon reduction. Carbon reduction goals also drive the demand for offsets and carbon trading, encouraging the development of this new industry and offering opportunities for different sectors to develop and use innovative new technologies.
  • Policies: Policies can also play a role in emissions, as they can help to change the way we produce and use energy. For example, policies that incentivise the use of renewable energy can encourage emissions cuts. In addition, policies that discourage the use of fossil fuels can also help to reduce emissions. Policies are an important tool in the fight against climate change. They can help to change the way we produce and use energy, which can lead to reduced emissions.

Carbon Footprint Per Capita by Country

While all countries emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not all countries are equal in their carbon footprints. In order to understand a country's environmental impact, it is important to look at the amount of greenhouse gases they emit per capita. This takes into account the size of the country's population and measures the amount of carbon per person.

When looking at carbon footprints per capita, smaller countries like Norway and Costa Rica rank much higher than larger countries like China and the United States. This is because these smaller countries have fewer emissions overall, even though they have large populations.

Larger countries tend to have more emissions because of their high levels of industrialisation. The United States, for example, is a large country with a high level of industrial activity. This leads to more emissions from things like transportation and manufacturing.

Some of the countries with the highest carbon footprints per capita are Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. These countries have high incomes and high levels of consumption, which leads to more emissions.

In contrast, some of the countries with the lowest carbon footprints per capita are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Burundi. These countries have lower incomes and consume less, resulting in fewer emissions.

Top 15 Countries with the Highest CO2 Emissions per Capita (t) - EU JRC 2020

  1. Palau — 55.29
  2. Qatar — 35.64
  3. Trinidad and Tobago — 21.97
  4. Bahrain — 21.60
  5. Kuwait — 20.91
  6. United Arab Emirates — 20.70
  7. Brunei Darussalam — 17.95
  8. Saudi Arabia — 16.96
  9. Oman — 16.9
  10. Australia — 15.22
  11. Canada — 14.43
  12. Kazakhstan — 14.22
  13. United States — 13.68
  14. Turkmenistan — 13.37
  15. Luxembourg — 13.24

The U.S.'s per capita emissions are 13.68 tons, which is the thirteenth-highest in the world. Russia and Japan rank a little lower at 20th (11.64 tons) and 26th (8.39 tons), while China and India's numbers lay at 28th (8.20) and 110th place with 1.74 respectively. Several developing nations occupy the top spots, largely due to less-regulated energy, industry, and transportation industries.

Emissions per Capita per Country graph
Top countries with highest emissions per capita. Source: World Population Review.

Top 5 countries CO2-emitting countries in the world (Total CO2 in Mt)

The top five countries that emit carbon dioxide are China, the United States, India, Japan, and Russia.  

With a release of 11680 Mt (11.680 GT) of carbon dioxide in 2020, China is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, just over 32% of the world's total emissions. It's followed by the United States which contributed 4.535 GT, or roughly 12.6% of the total global emissions for that year.  India, the third-largest emitter, emitted 2.849 GT of CO2 in 2020, accounting for 7.9% of the world's total.

  1. China — 11680.42
  2. United States — 4535.30
  3. India — 2411.73
  4. Russia — 1674.23
  5. Japan — 1061.77

These top five countries account for more than 60% of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions. As of 2020, the remaining countries in the top 10 list are Iran (690.24), Germany (636.88), South Korea (621.47), Saudi Arabia (588.81), and Indonesia (568.27).

CO2 emissions per country graph
CO2 emissions by country. Source: World Population Review.
Carbon Emissions by Country
Top countries emitting carbon emissions. Source: World Population Review.

Percentage of C02 emissions by country

percentage of carbon emissions by country pie chart

Overview of the top 5 carbon emitting countries

Now that we know the top carbon-emitting countries, let's explore why they each hold this position.


China is the biggest polluter in the world, emitting more than 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The country's emissions have been growing rapidly in recent years as its economy has boomed.

Transportation and manufacturing are the biggest sources of China's emissions, accounting for about 60% of the total. Coal is the biggest contributor to these emissions, providing about 70% of the country's electricity.

China has taken some steps to address its emissions, including investing in renewable energy and setting targets to reduce coal use. However, the country's emissions are still expected to continue growing in the coming years.

China was at 10.175Mt in 2019, at 11680.42Mt in 2020, and the number has grown since then. They are the last in line for net zero, only agreeing to plan for carbon neutrality in the year of 2060 and their strategies to achieve it are neither transparent nor convincing. Although they have a goal to peak by 2030 and a 140-page document that explains how they will curve it, the details still are not transparent and the statistics do not seem likely to be achievable.

The United States

In the United States, their missions primarily come from transportation, industry and power. They emitted 5.285Mt of CO2 in 2019. The chemical sector also produces products from raw materials which is a big emitter. They are also large producers of crude oil. Since they mostly rely on individual transportation, wasting gas and oil, instead of public transportation, and they are big on importing for consumers and other manufactured materials outside of the country, especially reliant on China, the US is the second-highest emitter. The good news is that they have decreased emissions and have strategies, awareness, and willingness to carry out the strategies.

According to Climate Action Tracker, the USA is far from sufficient in achieving their targets to combat the problem:

us climate action tracker net zero chart
Image Source: Climate Action Tracker


India is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide at 2.616Mt in 2019 which has doubled since 2009 due to industrialization and their consumption of solid fuels and coal. Coal being used for electricity rose between 68% in 1992 to 75% in 2015 because it is cheaper than importing gas.

Waste management, agriculture, and deforestation also contribute to emissions in India. The rapidly growing population and economy are the main drivers of emissions growth.

India has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, this target is not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Even though India has pledged to reduce emissions, their target is not sufficient and they are continuing to increase emissions at a rapid pace.


Russia is the fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, emitting 1.763Mt in 2019. The majority of their emissions come from the energy sector, which accounted for about 70% of their total in 2018. The remaining emissions come from the industrial sector (20%), transportation (6%), and agriculture (4%).

Russia has set a target to reduce its emissions by 25-30% below 1990 levels by 2030. However, this target is not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Reuters reports, "The ambassadors urged Russia to "seize this opportunity" to develop renewable energy, green technologies and protect carbon-consuming forests, to help boost its economy and create jobs in low-carbon sectors. Russia is a major producer of oil and gas, fossil fuels that when combusted produce the greenhouse GHG gas emissions driving climate change."


Japan's emissions are relatively low compared to the other top emitters. They emitted 1.186Mt of CO2 in 2019. The majority of their emissions come from the energy sector, which accounted for about 60% of their total in 2018. The remaining emissions come from the industrial sector (30%), transportation (9%), and agriculture (1%).

Japan is the fifth highest emitter, using coal and natural gas for electricity for individuals and industries. The Fukushima disaster led to an increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Now, Japan plans on reopening its nuclear power reactors to generate power again and become less reliant on imported fuel - this should help them decrease their dependency on fossil fuels overall. However, after the last nuclear accident that had caused ecosystems to be in jeopardy for centuries, renewable energy from offshore wind projects and solar power would be better than nuclear power which causes problems that could make them pay a worse price environmentally and economically than carbon emissions.

While Japan has great potential to develop renewables and has the desire to achieve net zero by 2050, turning investors towards localised renewable energy like offshore wind farms would be a positive shift in their energy mix. They do have plans on using 24% of renewables in the future but with very little wind power (1.7%) despite being an archipelago favourable for offshore projects.

Japan has proposed the following power mix by 2030:

japan's sources of energy
Image Source: Carbon Brief Chart from Japan's INDC

Japan has set a target to reduce its emissions by 26% below 2013 levels by 2030. However, this target is not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

What can countries do to reduce their carbon footprint?

Countries need to take significant and drastic measures to reduce carbon footprint. Here are some of the strategies:

  • Renewable energy sources: Countries need to invest in renewable energy sources like solar and wind power in order to reduce carbon emissions. Renewables are not only cleaner than fossil fuels, but they are also more affordable in the long run.
  • Carbon capture and storage: Carbon capture and storage technology allows countries to capture carbon dioxide emissions from factories and power plants and store them underground. This is a key technology in preventing climate change from reaching catastrophic levels.
  • Reducing deforestation: Eliminating deforestation is one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon footprint. Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global carbon emissions, so countries must take steps to protect our forests.
  • Introducing carbon tax: Jumping on the carbon tax bandwagon could be one of the most effective ways for countries to quickly and significantly reduce their carbon footprint. A carbon tax is a levy on the carbon content of fossil fuels. It is designed to make companies and individuals pay for the damage their emissions cause to the environment.

How Can Net0 help?

Net0 helps governments and businesses to measure, reduce and report carbon emissions.

At Net0, we are doing our part to help countries reach their emissions goals. Our AI-powered emissions management platform is thoughtfully designed, intuitive and user-friendly. It is suitable for government departments and businesses of all sizes.

Tackling climate change is a daunting task, but it is one that we must all take on if we want to leave a livable planet for future generations. With Net0, you can be sure that you are taking the necessary steps to reduce your carbon footprint and do your part to save the planet.

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Book a call with us to explore how we can help prevent global warming through our cutting-edge solutions for governments and businesses.

Final thoughts

While some countries are working harder than others to reduce their emissions, every country needs to do their part to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. If countries work together, we can slow down climate change and prevent catastrophic environmental damage. Net0 provides the solutions to help governments, public companies and large businesses reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change. Contact us to learn more about Net0.

Written by:

Sofia Fominova

As a Co-Founder of Net0, Sofia applies her experience in environmental software to help businesses reduce their carbon footprint and achieve carbon neutrality. She is an accomplished tech entrepreneur recognized for her expertise in B2B software and contributions to the field of Artificial Intelligence.
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