Top 5 CO2 Emission Countries

Increasing CO2 emissions are one of the biggest prices we pay for industrialization. This bar chart race shows how gradually these emissions rose in the 19th and early 20th century before cars, factories, jet planes, massive ships, and intensive agriculture pushed CO2 levels to over 400 ppm (parts per million). Pre-industrialization, CO2 levels had never risen above 300 ppm (at least in the last few million years).

US Top Emitter for Over 100 years

The UK was the most industrialized nation throughout the 19th century, but by 1890, the US passed the UK in CO2 emissions. If you have read our article about the 15 Largest Economies, you will probably notice similarities between the GDP chart and this one. It makes complete sense that the size of an economy would largely track how much CO2 is produced.

China Now Top Emitter

China's rapid growth in the past 20 years has come at a price. By 2007, China had taken over as the world's leading CO2 emitter, despite only being the 2nd largest economy. This is largely due to the fact that China's rapid industrialization has largely been fuelled by carbon sources such as coal and oil. The US and other richer nations, however, are slowly weaning themselves off of carbon to the point that the US now emits half of what China does despite having a larger economy.

European Countries Becoming Cleaner

If you look at the beginning of this chart, every country at the top was European, except for the US. Present day, Germany is the only European country left in the top 10 emitters, and even it has decreased its emissions to 1960 levels. The biggest CO2 emitters are now largely concentrated in North America, Asia, and the Middle East.

Economic Growth Doesn't Have to be Tied to Emissions

As we've seen in this chart, many countries have made successful transformations to clean energy without damaging their economies. The US has made significant progress in this regard, but is still one of the biggest emitters in the world. And we see no sign that China is starting to reverse their steadily increasing emissions and make the adaptation to clean energy. We hope to see this change over the next decade as China becomes a more mature, diversified economy. The goal is to start seeing a global decrease in emissions, but this still looks many years off.