Climate Emissions on a National Level

Not Just One of Us

Rising CO<sub>2</sub> emissions

Figure 1: Carbon Dioxide emissions from 1900-2008 globally from the EPA and Boden et al. (2010)

Nations Releasing the Most Emissions

According to the latest 2013 Report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission Joint Research Centere, the six regions/countries emitting the most CO2 (from most to least)are China, the United States, the European Union, India, the Russian Federation, and Japan.

Pie chart of fossil fuel emissions

Figure 2: 2008 Global CO2 Emissions from fossil fuel burning and industry from the EPA and the CDIAC


In 2012, China contributed 29% of global emissions. China’s emissions in 2012 increased by 3.3%, the smallest increase in the last decade, which is attributed to a small increase in usage of domestic coal and hydropower. This is also coupled with a drop in GDP increase from the double digits to 7.8% in 2012. The report did stipulate that these rates have a margin of error of about 10% which is the same for the Russian Federation and double that of for other countries.

United States

In 2012, the USA contributed 16% of global emissions. The USA has reduced its emissions by 4% in 2012 following a 2% decrease in 2011. Since 2005, the emissions had been increasing with every year until 2010. The USA still has the largest per capita emissions, though, as each citizen has a carbon footprint of 17.6 tons (for comparison, Indian citizens have a carbon footprint of 2 tons per person). The decrease in emissions in 2012 are largely attributed to an increased reliance on coal and cheaper natural gas, which contains about half of the CO2. Moreover there was an increase in the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power and biofuels, in power generation from 7.9% in 2005 to 11% in 2012.

European Union

In 2012, the EU contributed 11% of global emissions. As the third largest emitter of CO2, the EU was still in an economic recession during 2012. Their carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% compared to 2011. This 1.3% decrease is attributed to the decreased consumption of oil by 4% and gas by 2% in non-industry sectors (i.e. residential and service). Power plants did reduce their emissions by an average of 2%, with varying trends depending on the industry and country. Additionally, the EU has met its first Kyoto Protocol target, which was to reduce the emissions of the six largest greenhouse gases by 8% in 15 EU countries by 2012. By 2011, the EU was 14.9% below the base levels set in 1990, almost doubling their goal. The next target is to reduce emissions in its 28 Member States by 20% from 2013 to 2020 from the base level set in 1990.

The global emissions of CO2 in 2012 have reached 34.5 billion tons, an increase of 1.1% since 2011 which is less than half of the last decade’s average annual increase of 2.9%. This is in comparison to the global economic growth of 3.5% in 2012. The European Commission Joint Research Centre further states that in order to continue a slowdown in increased CO2 emissions, China will need to reach their goal of maximum energy consumption by 2015 and a subsequent shift to natural gas by 2020. The United States will have to continue its trends of transitioning to natural gas and renewable sources of energy. Lastly, the European Union will continue to reduce emissions through the EU Emissions Trading System.


With a GDP growth of 4% in 2012, India’s CO2 levels increased by 6.8%, totaling in 2.0 billion tons, since 2011. This is mostly due to its population size and continuing economic growth. Moreover, coal use increased by 10% in 2012. This made up two thirds of its emissions in that year. Power production that is dependent on coal combustion makes up 70% of India’s coal-related CO2 emissions and it grew by 13% in 2012, the highest annual growth rate ever.

Russian Federation

Constituting 5.1% of global CO2 emissions, the Russian Federation decreased their emission levels by .9%. It makes up half of the emissions by ‘economies in transition’ (EIT countries). With the global recession, the Russian Federation increased emission in 2011 by 4.1%, dropping them back to 2006 levels of emissions.


Although Japan has made a steady decrease in global emission levels from 5.2% in the 1990s to 3.8% in 2012, there was an increase of 6.2% of CO2 emissions in 2012. This is the highest increase in two decades and due to the closing of nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster. With this transition, coal use was increased by 5.4%, returning to consumption levels from 2007 to 2010. Renewable energy is being looked at as an alternative source and now accounts for 10% of its energy levels, mostly from hydroelectricity. Moreover, its solar capacity increased to 7.4 GW and is projected to continue its growth. 


J. Alyssa White

Last Updated: October 27, 2016