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Who emits more than their share of CO₂ emissions?

Our World in Data presents the empirical evidence on global development in entries dedicated to specific topics.

This blog post draws on data and research discussed in our entry on CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

In a recent article I explored how different income groups and world regions compared in terms of their share of the global population and versus carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

From this, two key questions from readers emerged:

  • How does this comparison look at the national level; and
  • How does this look when we correct for emissions embedded in trade, so that we are comparing the emissions caused by a country's consumption rather than production?

In this short post I aim to answer the first of these questions. The latter is addressed in a related blog post here.

Which countries emit more than their 'share' of emissions?

In a completely equal world, each country's share of the world's CO2 emissions would be equal to its share of the global population. This is not reality. In my previous post I explored how this looked at regional and income group levels. But how do individual countries fare in this comparison?

In the chart below I have plotted each country's share of global CO2 emissions (on the y-axis) versus its share of the global population (on the x-axis).1 Note that this is based on production-based (territorial) emissions; I will look at the comparison to trade-adjusted consumption-based emissions later.2 The bubbles for each country have been colored based on its World Bank income group.

If a country had a share of global emissions equal to its share of the population it would lie along the grey line of parity. Countries which lie above this line have emissions higher than their population share; countries below emit lower than their share. Hovering over any country will label its specific values on the left of chart (x-axis being the population share, and y-axis the emissions share). To find a specific country you can use the 'search' button in the bottom-left corner of the chart below.

There are a few interesting findings which emerge:

  • All countries in the high-income group emit more than their population share [hovering over the income group label on the right-hand legend will show all countries in this group];
  • All low-income groups emit less than their population share;
  • Most lower-middle income countries emit less than their population share; and upper-middle income countries are mixed;
  • The USA emits more than three-times its population share;
  • China emits significantly more than its population share (29 percent of emissions vs. 19 percent of population);
  • India emits significantly less than its share (7 percent of emissions vs. 18 percent of population);
  • Brazil emits just over half of its population share (2.8 percent of emissions vs. 1.5 percent of population).

At the end of this blog I provide another way of look at this comparison: per capita emissions versus the global average. These maps provide a more simplified overview of countries that over- or under-emit their 'share'.

Another way to look at which countries over- and under-emit relative to their population share

A more simplified way to determine whether countries over- or under-emit CO2 emissions relative to their population share is to compare per capita emissions with the global average. If the world was completely equal, everyone would emit the same (i.e. the global average). When we compare each country's per capita emissions to the global average we are effectively comparing with its population share.

I have mapped below which countries have average per capita emissions above or below the global average. Countries in red have per capita emissions above global 'equity' (meaning they emit more than their population share); those in blue are below the global average. Here we see that most of those above global equity are across North America, Eurasia, and Oceania. The surprising result for many is that in Europe, Sweden and Switzerland emit less than the global average.

Whilst this is true of CO2 production, when corrected for trade (i.e. consumption-based) they turn red. Both countries import a substantial share of emissions (Switzerland's emissions triple, and Sweden's increase by two-thirds). This map is available on a consumption basis hereand the comparison between each country's production and consumption per capita emissions here.3

With such a strong relationship between emissions and economic growth, no high-income country has (yet) achieved reductions which bring them in line with the global average.