Carbon Emissions by Country: Top 15

Including total carbon emissions, per capita amounts, main drivers, and outlook.

Power Plant in the sunrise

queerbeet / Getty Images

Carbon dioxide emissions are the primary driver of climate change, but they're not the only one. Other greenhouse gases include methane, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases (that includes hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride).

While it's difficult to quantify all greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide emissions data provide a more straightforward way to understand the severity of their impact. This list of the top 15 countries with the highest carbon dioxide emissions is based on the Global Carbon Project's most recent data (2019) and OurWorldinData.org analysis. All units are metric tons.

CO2 emissions per country 2000-2019
CO2 emissions per country, 2000-2019, top 15 countries.

Our World Data / Creative Commons BY 4.0

Is This the Right Way to Understand Carbon Emissions?

This article includes emissions numbers per country, but not everyone agrees that this is the best way to identify the worst offenders. Some experts believe that countries like China, whose emissions are high in part because it produces goods that are used by people all over the world, should be measured differently. For example, the difference between CO2 used in production vs. consumption in the United States is much smaller than China's, meaning that in the U.S. much of the CO2 emissions come from people, while in China it comes from the manufacturing of products that go to the rest of the world.

Others think that the per-capita emissions numbers—the amount of emissions produced per person—is a more appropriate standard. This method allows us to understand those countries with smaller populations alongside those with larger ones more clearly.

Per-capita emissions are highest for oil-producing countries and some island nations, reflecting the huge energy costs the oil business has on the global environment—even before those fossil fuels are burned.

CO2 per Capita - Top 10 Countries

  1. Qatar - 38.74 tons per person
  2. Trinidad and Tobago - 28.88 tons per person
  3. Kuwait - 25.83 tons per person
  4. Brunei - 22.53 tons per person
  5. Bahrain - 21.94 tons per person
  6. United Arab Emirates - 19.67 tons per person
  7. New Caledonia - 19.30 tons per person
  8. Sint Maarten - 18.32 tons per person
  9. Saudi Arabia - 17.50 tons per person
  10. Kazakhstan - 17.03 tons per person

*Australia and the United States place 11 and 12 on the per-capital list.

**Source: ourworldindata.org

Further complicating the analysis, there are many different databases that seek to quantify global carbon emissions. The 2018 International Energy Agency index, for example, only includes fuel combustion, while the Global Carbon Project's includes these emissions as well as cement production—a major contributor to CO2.

1
of 15

China—10.17 Billion Tons

Heavy Smog Hit North China
Pedestrians wearing masks walk along a street in heavy smog in Dalian, China.

AsiaPac / Getty Images

Per Capita: 6.86 tons per person

While China is by far the leader of global carbon emissions, it also has such a large population that its per-capita numbers are actually lower than many other countries' (there are about 50 countries with higher per-capital carbon emissions). It's also worth considering that China manufactures and ships many of the products that the rest of the world uses.

China's emissions come primarily from its many coal-burning power plants, which power its factories and provide electricity to industries and to people's homes. However, China is pursuing an aggressive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, with a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

2
of 15

United States—5.28 Billion Tons

Brown Layer of Los Angeles Smog
Los Angeles, California. steinphoto / Getty Images

Per Capita: 16.16 tons per person

The U.S. is number 12 on the per-capita use of CO2, but since it has a much larger population than other countries, it's a top emitter. That combination of a large population and each person using a lot of CO2 means that the U.S. has an outsized impact on climate change compared to many other countries.

Emissions come from coal, oil, and gas used in power plants to create electricity for homes and industry, and from transportation. Since about the year 2000, the United States' CO2 emissions have been on a downward trend, driven by a significant reduction in coal-burning power plants.

3
of 15

India—2.62 Billion Tons

Crowded Street, Delhi, India
Delhi, India. Tim Graham / Getty Images

Per Capita: 1.84 tons per person

Like China, India is higher on this list due to a large population, although per-capita use is lower than in many other countries. Compared to the United States, India's contribution to CO2 has really only ramped up in the last 30 years, whereas the United States' started rising about 120 years ago.

Still, India's contribution to the world's CO2 budget has been rising year-over-year and doing so faster than average. India's emissions come from a combination of both electricity generation for its growing population as well as to power the country's industry. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in late 2020 that the country plans to reduce its CO2 production by 30% by directly supporting renewable energy and solar projects, among other plans.

4
of 15

Russia—1.68 Billion Tons

Pollution in Vladivostok
Vladivostok-2 coal power station in Siberia, Russia. dataichi - Simon Dubreuil / Getty Images

Per Capita: 11.31 tons per person

Russia is a large country that uses a mix of coal, oil, and gas to create electricity, primarily to heat people's homes and run its industry. Its second-largest source of CO2 emissions is fugitive emissions. Those come from gas and oil drilling, as well as leaky pipelines that transport fossil fuels. Since the 1990s, the country has reduced its dependence on coal and oil and increased its use of natural gas.

Russia also has plans to cut CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030, which it aims to achieve through a combination of new, hydrogen-fueled passenger railways, a carbon emissions trading scheme, reducing dependence on coal, and increasing natural gas use.

5
of 15

Japan—1.11 Billion Tons

Early morning over Kawasaki
Kawasaki, Japan. Masakazu Ejiri / Getty Images

Per Capita: 9.31 tons per person

Since 2013, Japan's carbon emissions have been on a significant downward trend, decreasing from 1.31 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 to 1.11 billion tons in 2019. The emissions come mostly from the country's direct consumption of fossil fuels for its densely packed population concentrated in cities, and some manufacturing, though Japan, as an island nation, also imports quite a lot from other countries.

Japan has set the goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and is planning on accelerating its climate change targets. The Japanese government and the private sector are also investing in solar and wind, as well as some experimental energy sources.

6
of 15

Iran—780 Million Tons

Flares of Iranian oil refinery and natural gas company smoking in the air, Persian Gulf, Iran
Oil refinery and natural gas company, Persian Gulf, Iran. Germán Vogel / Getty Images

Per Capita: 8.98 tons per person

Perhaps not surprisingly for an oil-rich nation, the vast majority of Iran's carbon emissions come from oil and gas, with almost no coal in the mix. Most of its net emissions come from the same areas that most countries' do: electricity and heat generation, buildings, and transportation. Where Iran does differ from many others on this list is in the category of fugitive emissions, which are leaks from storage tanks and pipelines.

Iran has not ratified the Paris Agreement. However, there are ways for the country to significantly cut emissions by improving the efficiency of power plants and curbing gas flaring alone, which could even put it in line with the international climate treaty.

7
of 15

Germany—702 Million Tons

Pollution
Industrial area in Dusseldorf, Germany. Dirk Meister / Getty Images

Per Capita: 9.52 tons per person

Germany's CO2 emissions have been on a downward trend since about 1980, with coal, in particular, taking a nosedive in consumption, as well as reductions in oil, while natural gas has remained about the same. Most of the fossil fuels burned are for heat and electricity, followed by transportation and buildings.

The country's Climate Action Plan 2050 includes targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases by 55% of 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% to 95% by 2050, to get as close to carbon neutrality by then as possible. Each sector of the economy has different and specific goals, including further expansion of renewable energy and phasing out the creation of electricity from fossil fuels, which will reduce the energy sector's emissions by 62%; a 50% reduction by industry; and a 66% to 67% reduction by buildings.

8
of 15

Indonesia—618 Million Tons

Smoke Emitting From Factory Against Cloudy Sky
Makassar, Indonesia.

Ismail Umar / Getty Images

Per Capita: 2.01 tons per person

Coal and oil use and emissions are both growing in Indonesia, a country comprised of over 17,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, including the islands of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, and parts of Borneo and New Guinea. Indonesia's unique composition means it faces different challenges for both economic growth and reduction of CO2 emissions. At the same time, these islands are unusually affected by the rising sea levels due to climate change.

While Indonesia's contribution to the planet's CO2 debt is significant and growing, most of it comes from a different source: land-use change and deforestation (there has been growing electricity production, transportation, and waste sectors, too, but their contribution is dwarfed by the land-use change). That's why the most significant part of the Indonesian government's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 29% by 2030 is its forest moratorium, which disallows new forest clearance for palm plantations or logging. First introduced in 2011, the moratorium was made permanent in 2019. A forest area the size of Japan has already been lost from Indonesia.

9
of 15

South Korea—611 Million Tons

Aerial view of Seoul cityscape at sunset
Seoul cityscape, South Korea. Fidelis Simanjuntak / Getty Images

Per Capita: 12.15 tons per person

South Korea produces most of its carbon emissions by burning fossil fuels to create electricity and heat. Transportation, and then manufacturing and construction follow, as the country continues on a building trajectory that began in the 1960s.

South Korea also plans to go carbon neutral by 2050, In late 2020, the country's president, Moon Jae-in, pledged the equivalent of $7 billion on a "Green New Deal" aimed at replacing coal-burning plants with renewable energy, updating public buildings, creating industry complexes designed to use fewer fossil fuels, and even greening up urban areas by planting forests.

10
of 15

Saudi Arabia—582 Million Tons

Aerial view of cityscape at night, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Mint Images / Getty Images

Per Capita: 17.5 tons per person

Saudi Arabia's carbon emissions come from oil and some natural gas (no coal), which makes sense as oil is a primary industry for the country. Those fuels are used to create electricity, for transportation, and in manufacturing and construction, as well as to power the oil industry.

Unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia did sign the Paris Agreement in 2015. While its work on reducing carbon emissions has been slow, it has committed to reducing carbon emissions by 2030. Plans include solar, wind, and nuclear technology, an increase in fuel prices, and a Clean Energy Standard, as well as a commitment to plant 50 billion trees throughout the Middle East, 10 billion of them in Saudi Arabia.

11
of 15

Canada—577 Million Tons

Petro-Canada Refinery
The Petro-Canada Refinery in Strathcona County, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Leslie Philipp / Getty Images

Per Capita: 15.59 tons per person

Canada's per-capita emissions have dropped over the last five years, but its overall emissions haven't budged as much. Compared to other similar-sized countries, Canada uses far less coal and more oil and natural gas to power electricity and heat production, as well as transportation in the geographically large country. Perhaps surprisingly, its third-largest carbon contribution comes from the land-use change and forestry category, which produces more carbon emissions than buildings or manufacturing and construction do. That's down to the country's active forestry businesses, including continued removal of old-growth forests (significant carbon sinks), forest lands continuing to be converted to croplands, wildfires and insect damage to forests, and other long-term effects of previous forest management practices.

Canada's plan to reduce carbon emissions 30% below 2005 emissions by 2030 (and net-zero emissions by 2050) is part of the larger Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The plan involves both current policies, including regulating methane emissions, a carbon tax, and a ban on coal power plants, as well as new policies, like building and transportation efficiencies, and changes in land use.

12
of 15

South Africa—479 Million Tons

Smog over Johannesburg
Smog over Johannesburg, South Africa. Charles O'Rear / Getty Images

Per Capita: 8.18 tons per person

South Africa's carbon emissions have remained about the same for the last decade, with the vast majority coming from the country's coal-fired power plants and some from oil. More than most countries on this list, that energy goes to create electricity.

Because coal is such a significant contributor to South Africa's carbon emissions (it provides 80% of the country's electricity), phasing out coal plants and increasing renewable energy is the simplest way for the country to meet its Paris Agreement goals of a reduction of 28% of 2015 output by 2030. A carbon tax scheme is also already up and running.

13
of 15

Brazil—466 Million Tons

Air Pollution on Sao Paulo city
Air Pollution in Sao Paulo, Brazil. josemoraes / Getty Images

Per Capita: 2.33 tons per person

Since 2014, Brazil's carbon dioxide emissions have been on a downward trend. The country uses some coal and natural gas, but relies most heavily on oil, as it has the largest oil and gas reserves in the region. Despite that fact, the biggest part of Brazil's emissions come from its agricultural sector, with land-use changes being the second-highest source. Large-scale burning of the Brazilian rainforest (for agriculture and logging) has accelerated in the last few years.

Brazil signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, and recommitted to its goals in 2020, with the specific goals of reducing total net greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2 but not limited to carbon) by 37% in 2025, and 43% by 2030, based on the reference year of 2005's emissions. The goal for net-zero emissions is 2060.

14
of 15

Mexico—439 Million Tons

Mexico City Faces High Levels Of Air Pollution
Mexico City, Mexico. Cristopher Rogel Blanquet / Getty Images

Per Capita: 3.7 tons per person

Oil and gas are Mexico's top sources of carbon emissions—the country uses very little coal. Oil and gas are primarily used to create electricity, followed closely behind by the transportation sector, which uses almost as much energy to move people and goods. Agriculture is third, with much of that food going to the United States, as well as feeding Mexican people.

Mexico signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, and its pledge is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22% to 36% by 2030 (the higher number reflecting some expectations of technology transfer, access to low-cost loans, and other assistance). Mexico plans to further reduce its emissions to 50% below 2000 levels by 2050. While the country's total carbon footprint has decreased a small amount since 2016, it has so far been unable to hit smaller carbon-reduction goals.

15
of 15

Australia—411 Million Tons

 power station
Loy Yang Coal Power Station, Traralgon, Victoria, Australia. John W Banagan / Getty Images

Per Capita: 16.88 Tons per person

Australia's land size is similar to that of the United States, though it has about one-tenth the population of the U.S. Both countries are in the top 10 per-capita carbon contributors. Australia burns coal, oil, and gas, although coal has been on the downswing and gas on the upswing since about 2008. Those emissions come primarily from electricity generation, followed by agriculture and transportation.

As part of its Paris Agreement commitment, Australia has stated it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. There are several strategies to accomplish this, including improving the fuel efficiency of the country's cars, substantially increasing renewable energy—especially solar power—, and increasing the energy efficiency of existing appliances. A carbon tax that had been in place was removed in 2014, and since then Australia's carbon emissions have flatlined after a decade of decline.

View Article Sources
  1. Solomon, Susan, et al. "Irreversible Climate Change Due to Carbon Dioxide Emissions." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 6, 2009, pp. 1704-1709., doi:10.1073/pnas.0812721106

  2. "Overview of Greenhouse Gases." Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. "Data Supplement to the Global Carbon Budget 2020." Global Carbon Budget, 2020., doi:10.18160/gcp-2020

  4. Yang, Yuantao, et al. "Mapping Global Carbon Footprint in China." Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 2237, 2020., doi:10.1038/s41467-020-15883-9

  5. Le Quere, Corinne, et al. "Fossil CO 2 Emissions in the Post-COVID-19 Era." Natural Climate Change, vol. 11, 2021, pp. 197-199., doi:10.1038/s41558-021-01001-0

  6. Ghadaksaz, Hesam and Saboohi, Yadollah. "Energy Supply Transformation Pathways in Iran to Reduce GHG Emissions in Line with the Paris Agreement." Energy Strategy Reviews, vol. 32, 2020, pp. 100541., doi:10.1016/j.esr.2020.100541

  7. "National Climate Policy." Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

  8. Zikra, Muhammed, et al. "Climate Change Impacts on Indonesian Coastal Areas." Procedia Earth and Planetary Science, vol. 14, 2015, pp. 57-63., doi:10.1016/j.proeps.2015.07.085  

  9. "Indonesia Forests." Greenpeace.

  10. "2050 Carbon Neutral Strategy of the Republic of Korea: Towards a Sustainable and Green Society." The Government of the Republic of Korea, 2020.

  11. "Amazon Fire Activity in 2020 Surpasses 2019." Global Fire Emissions Database.

  12. "Mexico." Climate Action Tracker.

  13. Hanna, Emily. "Climate Change- Reducing Australia's Emissions." Parliament of Australia.