Summary Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States

Right now, China followed by the US emit the most greenhouse gases annually of all countries in the world.

The US is also the current leader in cumulative emissions over history. 

This guide provides an outline of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, where we look at the past, present and future of emissions.


Summary – Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States

A summary of the US’ greenhouse gas emissions picture for the country might be:

Cumulative Emissions

The US currently leads the world in cumulative CO2 emissions throughout history (emissions over all time), with China in second


Annual Emissions

The US sits behind China for annual CO2 emissions (at around half)


Per Capita Emissions

The US has one of the leading per capita CO2 emissions in the world in terms of tonnes per person per year


Greenhouse Gas That Is Emitted The Most

Carbon dioxide (81% of total) is by far the most common greenhouse gas emitted in the US


Energy Sources Responsible For The Most Greenhouse Gases

Oil, followed by gas and coal are the top emitting fuel sources in the US

The US has already begun moving away from coal energy towards more natural gas usage based on current trends and numbers.


Industries That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases

Transport, electricity production, and industry are the leading greenhouse gas emitting sectors in the US (agriculture only comes in at 9% of total)


Are Emissions Increasing Or Decreasing?

According to data from the, CO2 emissions looked to have peaked in the US at around 2005 to 2007, and were decreasing until around 2016


Future Emissions Forecast

There might be two scenarios for the United States’ future greenhouse gas emissions

The first scenario is that there is little change from the energy sources and and systems in use now, and emissions slightly increase each year, but also build up each year to 2050

The second scenario is a scenario with cleaner power and energy being used, and emissions decrease up to around 30% from 2005 levels

Starting in 2022, forecasts say practically all additional electricity generation capacity would come either from natural gas, or wind and solar.

Depending on the energy mix used and in what proportions, these things can influence whether the first or the second scenario plays out.

But, it may be more likely to follow the first scenario based off current information, where there are no major cleaner energy implementations

*Note that future forecasts for what a country may do and their future emissions are a guess only, and in reality are very hard to get accurate due to the number of variables at play.

Some variables can also have a much larger impact than others – so one variable can change forecasts a lot.


Cumulative CO2 Emissions

The United States leads the world for cumulative emissions over time.

Read this guide for the list of countries by cumulative emissions.


Annual CO2 Emissions

The US is currently second behind China for annual emissions.

Read this guide for the list of countries by annual emissions.


You can view a year by year CO2 emission graph from 1960 to 2014 in million tons at the resource listed in the resources list


Per Capita CO2 Emissions

The United States is one of the top per capita emitting countries in the world, but doesn’t have as high per capita emissions as a country like Qatar and several others.

Read this guide for the list of countries by per capita emissions.


Emissions By Type Of Greenhouse Gas

Carbon dioxide by far is the greenhouse gas emitted in the highest % share in the US compared to other greenhouse gases.


In 2016, greenhouse gas emissions by type of gas in the US was:

Carbon Dioxide – 81%

Methane – 10%

Nitrous Oxide – 6%

Fluorinated Gases – 3%



Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry

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

Read more about the full list of sectors and industries in this guide.


Compared to China who has most of it’s agricultural methane come from rice cultivation, the US as the world’s leading beef producer has most of it’s agricultural methane come from beef] (-


CO2 Emissions In The United States By Fuel Source

The United states had of 5.31 Gt of CO2 Emissions in 2016 (15.3% of global C02 emissions).

The breakdown by fuel source was:

Oil – 2.31Gt C02

Gas – 1.53Gt C02

Coal – 1.38Gt C02

Gas Flaring – 0.0459Gt C02

Cement – 0.0407Gt C02

… In the US, oil is the main source of CO2 emissions (43.5 percent), followed by natural gas (28.7 percent).



Current Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trend In The United States

The EPA resource in the resources list shows you the US Greenhouse Gas Emissions both by Gas, and by Sector – from 1990 to 2016.

Page 12 of the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trends and Projections Report also shows CO2 Emissions from 1990 to 2016 – it’s available at the resource

Both show:

a peak in CO2 Emissions around 2005 to 2007,

with CO2 emissions on the decrease since then until 2016.

On the EPA graph, emissions in the Transportation and Electricity Generation sectors have both slightly decreased in the same time.


Future Forecast For Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States

There might be two forecasts – one where emissions don’t change too much from how they are now and emissions slowly build up over the years, or, another where cleaner energy is used and emissions reduce by up to 30% up to 2050.

But generally, several sources say the US’ emissions will stay flat as they are now or slightly increase.

It’s worth pointing out that forecasts for greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions are essentially educated guesses with limitations.

And this is due to factors/variables such as economic activity, price of fossil fuels, what happens in the electricity and transport industries, government policy developments, whether there are improvements in energy efficiency + more.

What energy sources are used and in what %’s can have a big impact.

So, only estimated forecasts can be made.


[there might be two estimated forecasts] from 2016 to 2050:

… a baseline forecast with the same activity as what is in place now would see CO2 emission levels slightly increase from 2016 to 2050

… a scenario in which a clean power plan is implemented would see CO2 emission levels decrease by up to 32% below 2005 levels (and decrease from 2016 levels)



[Another forecast:]

The US is looking unlikely to achieve a goal of bringing net emissions to zero in the second half of this century

Instead, the U.S. would almost single-handedly exhaust the whole world’s carbon budget by midcentury (2050)

Overall, projections have emissions staying flat for several decades.

Those emissions would build up, adding more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year to the atmosphere for the next three decades or more.

At the baseline rate of emissions described in this new report, the U.S. carbon footprint from this year to 2050 would add up to 179 billion tons—very close to the whole planet’s budget under those estimates



Read More About Climate Change 

If you’re interested in learning more about the basics of climate change, this guide outlines some of those basic points.











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