This is not a guide about placing blame on specific countries for climate change and global warming issues.
It is however a guide that can give us a better idea of which countries might make the biggest contributions to climate change, based on emission numbers across various measures and indicators.
Summary – Which Countries (Might) Need To Do More To Reduce Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
There’s probably four indicators/measurements (that we can think of) that give a better idea of which countries need to do more to reduce emissions, or change their emission footprint …
1. Look at annual total emissions (total emissions per year)
2. Look the country’s emissions as a % of annual global emissions (what % that country makes up compared to other countries)
3. Look at per capita emissions (emissions per person per year)
4. And, look at reports/ratings about each countries’ effort and commitment to doing their ‘fair share’ to address climate change
Another measure that may be looked at is to see how many of the top emitting cities in the world are located in a particular country – individual cities might be important to consider in addition to countries as a whole
There is an asterisk on cumulative emissions as an indicator/measurement – the US has the most cumulative emissions throughout history at present.
But obviously, it’s something that reflects past behavior more than current behavior (where annual emissions are a more accurate indicator of current contribution to climate change).
There could be a case made though that cumulative emission leaders need to do their part to help absorb or sequester carbon already in the atmosphere, as carbon dioxide tends to stick around and have a warming effect for far longer than other greenhouse gases.
We would also note that there are variables to emissions indicators – such as whether all greenhouse gases are measured, or one specific GHG like carbon dioxide for example.
Examples of other variables might include that some countries have cleaner coal than others, or, even that there is question over the accuracy of the reporting of some countries’ emission total.
Another might be whether a country imports a lot of goods and services, or whether a country produces a lot of goods and services, and how the emissions from those goods and services are assigned (technically – the country consuming the goods and services should be assigned the emissions)
But, with the data we have, the results are …
– Annual total greenhouse emissions
China currently leads all countries, and essentially doubles the second placed US’s emissions
– Annual % of global emissions
China lead all countries in 2017 with 28.3% of emissions, over second placed United States with 15.2%
– Per capita emissions
According to multiple sources, Qatar leads per capita emissions with 47.83 tonnes of CO2 per person (a wide margin in front of other countries)
– Fair share
According to some reports in 2019, these countries rate as critically insufficient when it comes to doing their fair share to reduce global emissions, or committing to targets to hold warming to below 2 degrees – Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, Ukraine
According to some reports in 2019, these countries rate as highly insufficient when it comes to doing their fair share to reduce global emissions, or committing to targets to hold warming to below 2 degrees – Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, United Arab Emirates
According to some reports in 2019, these countries rate as insufficient when it comes to doing their fair share to reduce global emissions, or committing to targets to hold warming to below 2 degrees – Australia, Brazil, the EU, Kazakhstan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Switzerland
Overall, the global emissions picture really needs to be broken down on a country specific, and even city specific level (some cities produce a lot of emissions, but aren’t located in any of the top emitting countries), along with looking at how clean current energy sources are, consumption of fossil fuels, investment and effort to set up renewable and clean energy forms, transition strategies to clean energy, progress on meeting emissions targets, emission policies and more.
This guide is more a generalisation and not an in depth analysis of all those factors.
One other thing to note is that there is a difference between direct emissions, and a country’s all inclusive carbon footprint.
An all inclusive carbon footprint may include added emissions from products and goods/materials that are manufactured in one country and imported for use in another.
If imported carbon and greenhouse gas footprints were taken into account – the numbers could look different again.
Annual Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (By Country)
The countries that lead in terms of total sum of C02 emissions per year in 2016, measured in millions of tonnes, are:
China – 10,283.51 (Mt)
US – 5,565.49 (Mt)
EU-28 – a mix of european countries (Germany features high on the list)
India – 2,236.55 (Mt)
Russia – 1,669.6 (Mt)
Japan – 1266.6 (Mt)
In 2014, the top countries for C02 emissions were:
China – 30%
Other – 30%
United States – 15%
EU-28 – 9%
India – 7%
Russia – 5%
Japan – 4%
Annual % Of Global Emission (By Country)
In the year 2017, the share of global CO2 emissions expressed as a % was:
China – 28.3%
Rest Of World – 28.2%
OECD Countries – 21.2%
USA – 15.2%
India – 7.1%
In the year 2016, the share of global CO2 emissions expressed as a % was:
China – 29.1%
US – 15.2%
India – 6.9%
Brazil – 1.4%
UK – 1.1%
Per Capita/Per Person Emissions (By Country)
The countries with the highest per capita (C02 emissions per person in the population), measured in tonnes per person per year, are:
Qatar – 47.83 (tonnes per person per year)
Trinidad & Tobago – 30.06
Kuwait – 25.81
United Arab Emirates – 25.79
Bahrain – 24.51
Brunei – 23.7
Saudi Arabia – 19.66
New Caledonia – 18.2
Australia – 16.5
Luxembourg – 16.47
United States – 16.44
Most nations across sub-Saharan Africa, South America and South Asia have per capita emissions below five tonnes per year (many have less than 1-2 tonnes)
From 1 at the top, to 10 and the bottom:
United Arab Emirates
Trinidad and Tobago
10. United States
Rating Each Countries’ Effort, Commitment & ‘Fair Share’ To Address Climate Change
Climateactiontracker.org has developed some ratings to assess the level of commitment and effort different countries are putting towards climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Note that these ratings use a custom methodology – so not everyone may agree with it.
Also note that countries can change their targets, policies and actions, which would then require an updating of the ratings over time.
But, the results/findings as of mid 2019 were:
Countries Rated Critically Insufficient
Commitments within this range fall well outside the ‘fair share’ range and are not consistent and are not consistent with holding warming below 2 degrees celsius.
If all government targets were within this range – warming would exceed 4 degrees celsius.
Countries include Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, Ukraine
Countries Rated Highly Insufficient
Commitments within this range fall outside the ‘fair share’ range and are not consistent with holding warming below 2 degrees celcius.
If all government targets were within this range – warming would fall between 3 and 4 degrees celsius.
Countries include Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, United Arab Emirates
Countries Rated Insufficient
Commitments with this rating are in the least strongest part of their fair share range and not consistent with holding warming below 2 degrees celsius.
If all government targets were in this range, warming would reach between 2 and 3 degrees celsius.
Countries include Australia, Brazil, the EU, Kazakhstan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Switzerland
Cumulative Emissions (By Country)
The countries that lead in terms of total sum of C02 emissions since 1751 and up to 2014, measured in millions of tonnes, are:
United States – 376,212.65 (Mt)
China – 174,874.89 (Mt)
Germany – 86,536.42 (Mt)
United Kingdom – 75,237.98 (Mt)
India – 41,784.24 (Mt)
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.