Industries/Sectors That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases & Carbon Dioxide

Some industries/sectors emit more greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide than others (i.e. have a larger carbon footprint)

It’s important to look at the average emissions from industries on a global level, but also in individual countries, because each country has a different economy and sectoral makeup.

In this guide, we look at emission shares from different sectors globally, but also from different sectors on a country specific level – for major countries like China and the US.

 

Summary – Industries/Sectors That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases

– The Different Industries/Economic Sectors In Society

The different industries in society might be split into energy and electricity generation, transport, industrial, commercial, residential, agricultural, land use and forestry, and miscellaneous

 

– The Different Greenhouse Gases

The different greenhouse gases from these industries might be split into – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide

CO2e, which is the sum of all greenhouse gases listed above whilst taking into account global warming potential, can also be measured

 

– Total Global Carbon Emissions

Energy leads all industries in terms of highest total global carbon dioxide emissions, with transport in second place

 

– Total Global Methane Emissions

Agriculture and energy lead all industries in terms of highest total methane emissions

 

– Total Global Nitrous Oxide Emissions

Agriculture by far leads all industries in terms of total global nitrous oxide emissions

 

– Total Global CO2e Emissions (All Greenhouse Gas Emissions)

Energy by far is responsible for the most total global CO2e emissions, followed by land use sources, transport, and agriculture

 

Another set of data which splits the industries down into % share has electricity and heat production first at 25%, agriculture, forestry and land use second at 24%, and industry and transportation at third and fourth, at 21% and 14% respectively.

These industries combined compose 84% of all emissions

 

[Something that is important to note though is that emissions can be both direct and indirect. Sectors like agriculture, industrial activity, residential and commercial, and even transport when considering electric cars, all have their own direct emissions, but also indirectly use electricity from power generation, which has an indirect emission footprint]

 

– Emissions From Industries In The US

In the United States’ economy, transportation and electricity are responsible for the most emissions (both 28%), with industry in third place (at 22%)

 

– Emissions From Industries In Australian States

One set of data indicates coal fired power stations make up almost 50% of emissions in one State in Australia

 

– Carbon Intensity

In terms of carbon intensity of the activities and processes within an industry, transport might be the most intensive, and the industrial sector the lowest

 

– Emissions In Different Industries In Different Countries

Greenhouse gas emissions profiles differ between countries, and also on a global level

For example, if you compare which sectors different greenhouse gases come from in different countries, China has a different profile/breakdown than the US for example (some of this has to do with what stage each country’s economy is at, and specific factors such as GHGs coming from rice cultivation in China vs livestock in the US)

Read more about the US and their greenhouse gas emissions profile in this guide

Read more about China and their greenhouse gas emissions profiel in this guide 

China is the current leader in total annual CO2 emissions

In China, Construction-related activities are among the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions in China – particularly the production of cement and steel (you can read more about the carbon footprint of the cement and steel industries in this guide)

In China, Agriculture is the main sector responsible for Methane emissions – especially from rice crops/rice cultivation

In China, Agriculture and the energy sector are the main industries responsible for nitrous oxide emissions

The US is the second leading annual GHG emitter in the world, and the leading cumulative emitter

In the US, the transportation, electricity and industry sectors lead total greenhouse gases by a significant margin (agriculture only comes in at 9% of total)

Also in the US, the transport sector leads in CO2 intensity (CO2 emissions per energy unit produced)

In the US, for agriculture, current numbers indicate fertilizer is responsible for 50% of emissions, livestock around 33%, and manure about 15%

 

– Emissions From Different Industries In Different Cities

Developed cities and developing cities, as well as producer vs consumer cities might have different emission profiles in terms of the activities and sectors that their emissions come from

What we might see is a trend of developing cities having more of their emissions come from industrial activity, and developed cities having more of their emissions come from the energy used in buildings

Usually in a city, their emission total or emission rate is directly in step with the source of energy they use i.e. coal, another fossil fuel, or a cleaner energy source

So, emission profiles of countries and cities can change over time as the economy and local conditions change

 

*Note – emissions can be measured in different ways, such as total emissions, rate of emissions, share of emissions, per capita emissions, emissions per kWh produced, emissions per per British thermal unit (Btu), carbon intensity of a specific activity, and so on.

There can also be different variables, factors and assumptions that go into carbon footprint data, as well as these things changing from year to year.

So, there can be a large variance in carbon footprints depending on the time period and things that footprint is being measured upon.

Read more about carbon footprints in this guide.

 

Description Of The Different Sectors/Industries 

The different major emitting sectors and a description of each one might include:

– Energy & Electricity Generation

The generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity

Can also include the use of energy sources for other activities

Read more about the carbon footprint of energy sources and electricity in this guide.

 

– Transport

The movement of people and goods by cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, and other vehicles.

It involves road travel, but also air, rail, water, and so on.

It can involve private vehicles, public vehicles, freight and delivery vehicles, and more.

Read more about emissions from different types of transport in this guide

 

– Industrial

The production of the goods and raw materials we use everyday

Read more about the carbon footprint of different industrial materials like building materials in this guide

 

– Commercial and Residential

Homes and commercial businesses.

Excludes agricultural and industrial activities

Read more about the carbon footprint of different household and commercial activities and products in this guide

 

– Agriculture

Crop production, livestock production, farms and ranches.

Read this guide about the carbon footprints of different foods

 

– Land Use & Forestry

The management of land, the conversion in use of land, and forests and vegetation

 

– Other Sectors

There are also other miscellaneous sectors to consider.

Read more about the carbon footprints of miscellaneous activities, products and things in this guide

 

The ourworldindata.org resource in the resources list also has an explanation of the different sectors.

 

United States

A further description of what each sector includes in the US – the transportation, electricity, industry, commercial and residential, agriculture, and land use and forestry – can be found in the EPA.gov resource in the resources list

 

Global CO2 Emissions By Sector/Industry

Energy leads all industries in terms of highest total global carbon dioxide emissions, with transport in second place

 

In 2010, Global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, measured in gigagrams of CO₂ per year, by sector, were:

Total – 34.42 million

Energy – 20.33 million

Transport – 5.53 million

Residential & Commercial – 3.38 million

Agriculture, Land Use & Forestry – 2.62 million

Industry – 2.48 million

Other Sources – 47,519 thousand

Waste – 32,506.6 thousand

– ourworldindata.org

 

Global Methane Emissions By Sector/Industry

Agriculture and energy lead all industries in terms of highest total methane emissions

 

In 2008, total global methane (CH₄) emissions by sector, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e) were:

Total – 5.98 million

Agriculture – 2.84 million

Energy – 2.58 million

Land Use – 293,021.69 thousand

Residential & Commercial – 258,670.43 thousand

Industry – 5,290.31 thousand

Other Sources – 3,162.6 thousand

– ourworldindata.org

 

Global Nitrous Oxide Emissions By Sector/Industry

Agriculture by far leads all industries in terms of total global nitrous oxide emissions

 

In 2010, total global nitrous oxide (N₂O) emissions by sector, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents(CO₂e) were:

Total – 3.06 million

Agriculture – 2.21 million

Other Sources – 216,927.81 thousand

Energy – 175,856.12 thousand

Industry –  137,911.67 thousand

Waste – 119,087.49 thousand

Residential & Commercial – 91,159.3 thousand

Land Use – 83,443.4 thousand

Transport – 15,786.61 thousand

International Bunkers – 8,879.86 thousand

Forestry – 0

– ourworldindata.org

 

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry

Energy by far is responsible for the most total global CO2e emissions, followed by land use sources, transport, and agriculture

Another set of data which splits the industries down into % share has electricity and heat production first at 25%, agriculture, forestry and land use second at 24%, and industry and transportation at third and fourth, at 21% and 14% respectively

 

In 2010, the total global greenhouse gas emissions by sector globally, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e), were:

Total – 50.58 million

Energy – 23.24 million

Land Use Sources – 5.54 million

Transport – 5.54 million

Agriculture – 5.08 million

Commercial & Residential – 3.74 million

Industry – 3.47 million

Waste – 1.45 million

Forestry – 1.18 million

International Bunkers – 1.08 million

Other Sources – 267,609.41 thousand

– ourworldindata.org

 

By Economic Sector (in 2014):

Electricity and Heat Production – 25%

Agriculture, Forestry & Other Land Use – 24%

Industry – 21%

Transportation – 14%

Other Energy – 10%

Buildings – 6%

– epa.gov

 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry In The United States (2016)

In the United States’ economy, transportation and electricity are responsible for the most emissions, with industry in third place.

 

Transportation – 28%

Electricity – 28%

Industry – 22%

Commercial & Residential – 11%

Agriculture – 9%

Land Use & Forestry – offset of 11%

– epa.gov

 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Activity In NSW, Australia, In 2015/16

Coal fired power stations make up almost 50% of emissions in one State in Australia

 

stationary energy sources, such as coal-fired power stations (47 per cent)

transport (18 per cent)

coal mines (12 per cent)

agriculture (11 per cent)

land use (7 per cent)

land change (3 per cent)

waste (2 per cent)

– climatechange.environment.nsw.gov.au

 

Carbon Intensity Of Different Sectors

In terms of carbon intensity of the activities and processes within an industry, transport might be the most intensive, and the industrial sector the lowest

 

Historically, the industrial sector has had the lowest CO2 intensity, as measured by CO2 emissions per British thermal unit (Btu).

The transportation sector historically has had the highest CO2 intensity

– eia.gov

 

Potential Solutions To Addressing Emissions & Climate Change Across The Various Sectors

We’ve included potential solutions across the various sectors in these guides:

Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In The Transport Sector

Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Power & Electricity Production

Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In The Commercial & Residential Sectors

Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Agriculture, Land Use & Forestry

Solutions For Addressing Climate Change In Industry

 

You can also read this guide which generally outlines how we might approach climate change on levels higher and lower than the sector based level:

Solutions To Climate Change: Comprehensive Guide

 

Read More About Climate Change

If you’re interested in reading more about climate change, this guide outlines some of the basic information to consider

 

Sources

1. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions

2. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

3. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/aeo2019.pdf

4. https://climatechange.environment.nsw.gov.au/About-climate-change-in-NSW/Causes-of-climate-change

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