Global Emissions – The Biggest Offenders

by Elliott Morss


In a recent article, I concluded that global CO2 emissions will continue to grow rapidly in the foreseeable future. In this article, I look at who are the biggest offenders, both countries and fuels.

The Countries and Regions

Table 1 lists the countries and regions emitting the most CO2. China now is the largest emitter followed by the US and Europe. In 1971, 57% of global emissions came from the US and Europe. In 2009, their share had fallen to 31%. Adding China brings the 2009 share of these 3 to 55% of the world total. The emission of this group exceeds the emissions of the Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East combined.

Note the rapid growth in emissions for China, India, and Africa. This will continue as their middle classes buy houses and vehicles. The growth in Middle East emissions is staggering, a reflection of their growing oil fortunes. The dip in emissions from 2007 to 2009 in developed nations is a result of less energy use during the global recession.

Europe has been far better than the US at limiting emissions. Perhaps US performance would improve if it abandoned its current policy of keeping gas prices low and subsidizing dead end renewables. Within Europe, Germany has been a stellar performer. It is now emitting less CO2 than it did in 1971.

Controlling for Size

China and the US are large countries, so their high emissions are expected. In Table 2 I control for size by dividing each country’s emissions by its GDP. When this is done, several things stand out. Oil producers and refiners have large emissions. And not unexpectedly, countries with severe winters emit more. But there is good news as well. Globally, tons of CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP have fallen 44% since 1971. The figures for Iraq (2009) and North Korea (1971) look unbelievable.

Table 3 provides the same data for the country and regional offenders that were presented in Table 1.

As mentioned above, CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP are down globally by 44%. This is in part attributable to a declining share of manufacturing in global GDP. After controlling for size, CO2/$ are only greater in 2009 than in 1971 in Africa, Mexico, India and the Middle East. The emission ratios of 7 countries on this list exceed the world average – Australia, Canada, China, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the US.

The Fuel Offenders

Table 4 shows emissions per million tons oil equivalent (MTOE) of the three main fossil fuels. None are very clean. Look at the 2009 world totals. As expected, coal is the worst by emitting 3.78 tons for every MTOE of coal used. Oil emits 69% as much CO2 as coal at 2.62 tons for every MTOE of oil used. Natural gas slightly better at 2.31 tons, but still at an emission level of 61% of coal. The Table also indicates how well each country limits emissions from each fuel. For example, Mexico, Russia, Germany, and Australia generate the most emissions from an MTOE of coal.

By comparing the two years, one can see what progress has been made in limiting emissions for each fuel. For the world, the results are not impressive, with total emissions only down .2 tons (2.6 to 2.4). There is considerable talk of limiting emissions from coal. Maybe there has been progress on certain coal pollutants, but look at the US: since 1971, CO2 emissions have only fallen 1. Ton (3.9 to 3.8) per MTOE of coal used. For the world overall, they have increased from 3.6 to 3.8 tons.

The Coal Countries

I conclude with some coal data. How dependent are the biggest country and regional offenders on coal? According to Table 5, China is clearly the most worrisome. It is not just a CO2/other pollutants problem. At current production rates, China will run out of coal in 30 years. This in part explains China’s aggressive actions to find new energy sources including oil, nuclear and renewables.

Related Articles

Global Warming: What Is Most Worrisome? by Elliott Morss

Energy Transitions – Are We In One Now? (Part One) by Elliott R. Morss

Energy Transitions – Are We In One Now? (Part Two) by Elliott R. Morss

Energy Transitions: Are We In One Now? Part 3, Investments by Elliott Morss

From Coal to Nuclear – A Look at the Numbers by Elliott R. Morss

Climate Change: Good News, Less Than 1% Chance of Disaster. And the Bad News? by Andrew Butter

The Forgotten Renewable by Roger Conrad