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Last updated: 27 December 2023

Countries With The Highest Carbon Footprint

Carbon dioxide emitted globally has dramatically risen to 36.8 billion tonnes since 2022. To grasp the severity of this figure, it’s essential to recognise what is driving the high emissions, and that can be done by analyzing the nations with the heaviest carbon footprint. By doing this, we can gain insight into mitigating and lowering their impact.

This article will explore the top 10 nations with the peak carbon emissions from 2021. Our analysis will examine the primary causes, from coal, gas and oil utilization to tremendous industrialization and population growth.

We will assess the steps taken by different countries to address the emissions crisis, be it through net zero initiatives or other government pledges. We will explore the reasons behind the emissions emergency and the transformations necessary to tackle it.

This map indicates the countries with the highest output of CO2 emissions.

Countries with highest carbon emission of CO2

Top 10 highest carbon emitting countries 

The top 10 countries in terms of MtCO 2 emissions (in million tons of CO2) for 2021 are listed below:

RankCountryMtCO(million tons of CO2)
2United States of America5,007 
8Saudi Arabia672
10South Korea616
Based on the latest annual figures from 2021. Sourced via Global Carbon Project.

Key considerations 

Before we began to look into the numbers from various countries, it was essential to recognise any global occurrences that could have influenced the data. 

At the outset, it is important to note that the information we are examining is from 2021, when the world was still contending with the COVID-19 outbreak. Even though some countries might have started their restorative activities, the impacts of the emissions figures could have resulted from the temporary closure of operations, transportation, and industries.

Secondly, we also acknowledge that in 2021, the energy crisis began. Multiple factors caused this – including the impact of the pandemic and pre-war movements by Russia before it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The energy crisis saw more countries using alternative fuels, mostly opting for coal instead of gas, as it became less widely available and more expensive. Coal, however, has a much higher carbon emission level, which will increase record outputs beyond normal use.

The current global climate is undoubtedly impacting our lives, yet this data set still has the potential to provide us with beneficial information. We can use it to measure the amount of carbon dioxide emitted, even amid this adversity. In our examination, we will delve into the specifics of each nation.

Analysis of each country’s carbon footprint

We looked into the principal emissions factors for those in the top 5 of the list to comprehend what motivates these countries. In doing so, we want to detect the shared causes and any distinctive elements.

By looking at each country’s challenges, we can better understand global emissions, the main cause of climate change. Being better aware of what needs to change can help us adapt and reduce our impact on the planet.  

Carbon Footprint Top Five Countries

The countries with the highest carbon emissions predominantly have large populations and extensive industrial activities. China, with its population of over 1.4 billion people, tops the list, followed by the United States, India, Russia, and Japan.

However, total emissions alone don’t tell the full story. It’s also essential to consider per capita emissions, which provide a more accurate measure of a country’s carbon footprint relative to its population size.

1. China Emissions: 11,472,369,000.00 tons of CO2

Countries With The Highest Carbon Footprint China

It is no big shock to find China leading this list, given its immense population of 1.4 billion people. This means tremendous demand for energy-dependent industries.

China’s industry and exports heavily rely on coal and other fossil fuels, key factors in the nation’s high carbon dioxide output.

The Chinese economy and industry have grown quickly in recent years due to the implementation of multiple infrastructure projects. This has driven up the need for steel and cement production, which has caused an increase in CO2 emissions. China is responsible for producing half of the world’s steel. 

According to a report of global CO2 emissions in 2021, electricity and heating were the biggest cause of emissions. Between 2019 and 2021, China was responsible for almost all of those. 

2. United States of America Emissions: 5,007,336,000.00 tons of CO2

Countries With The Highest Carbon Footprint USA America

With the third largest population in the world, America is home to almost 333 million people. This is also a huge factor in its emissions levels, as more people create more need for energy and fuel consumption. 

It is remarkable that, despite having the world’s second-largest population, India’s carbon dioxide emissions are lower than those in the United States. Several explanations account for this disparity.

It is well understood that most of a nation’s emissions come from combusting fossil fuels. In America, producing electricity and heat largely accounts for burning coal, liquid fuel, and natural gas emissions. Additionally, transportation is a significant contributor, comprising automobiles, delivery vehicles, planes, and public transit.

Another aspect to account for is fluctuating weather patterns in America, which cause higher demand for heating and cooling systems. Whilst it is possible to adopt renewable energy technology for these needs – such as heat pumps or solar panels for homes – it’s estimated that around 48% of homes in the US still use natural gas for this, contributing largely to the country’s overall emissions figures. Given the increase in severe weather conditions, such as heat waves or blizzards, the use of home temperature technology will only increase.

3. India Emissions: 2,709,683,700.00 tons of CO2

Countries With The Highest Carbon Footprint India

For our third country on the list, the cause of emissions is slightly different. In India, the largest source of carbon emissions comes from power plants and agriculture. 

In India, electricity is largely sourced from coal-fired power plants, which release copious amounts of carbon dioxide. The carbon intensity of coal is one of the highest among fuel sources, resulting in twice the amount of CO2 produced when burning coal compared to gas for the same amount of energy. Because of this, coal has been identified as one of the least sustainable energy sources for the environment.

In India, the second greatest contributor to emissions is agriculture. Rice paddies, cattle and the utilization of fertilisers all produce large amounts of methane, a gas that falls under the category of greenhouse gases (GHG). Burning crops further increases the emissions released, resulting in global warming.

4. Russia Emissions: 1,755,547,400.00 tons of CO2

Russia's carbon emission

In Russia,the causes of carbon emissions are comparable to others on the list. Most of their emissions come from burning fossil fuels during energy production and manufacturing materials such as cement. 

Russia is home to an impressive population of 146 million people and is the world’s leading exporter of oil and gas. Consequently, it is no surprise that the nation has a high emission rate, given its reliance on fossil fuels for residential, commercial, manufacturing, and transportation purposes.

5. Japan Emissions: 1,067,398,460.00 tons of CO2

Japan footprint

The energy and production industries are responsible for Japan’s largest carbon output. The generation of electricity and the intensive manufacture of materials are the main contributors to the nation’s emissions.

In Japan, the production of energy through the burning of fossil fuels, similar to the practices in other leading nations, has a direct effect on the levels of CO2 present. Moreover, using gasoline, kerosene and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) within urban spaces amplifies these figures.

A Comparison of the Top Ten Countries

The graph shows the changing levels of carbon emissions from the 10 most significant countries from 2000 to 2021. Notably, China and India have seen a steady increase since the year 2000. Despite being in second place, the USA has slightly decreased since 2010.

In 2019-2020, the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic, most countries demonstrated a dip in emissions. It is assumed to be a consequence of the global lockdown when individuals ceased travelling, commercial operations closed, and less fuel was consumed internationally.

This graph provides an excellent overview of each nation’s growth since 2000, and the remarkable surge in China’s emissions demonstrates how it has quickened its progress over the past two decades.

Co2 emmission per Country 2000 - 2021

Plans and pledges

Across the globe, governments and leaders are taking steps to ensure action is taken to reduce emissions and the effects of climate change. Of the top 5 countries with the highest carbon footprint, we’ve outlined how each country has shown commitment to reversing or implementing changes to reduce their impact on the planet.

Here are some of the countries’ main climate goals:


  • Aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
  • Commitment to raise the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy consumption to 25% by 2030 and increase wind and solar power capacity.
  • Will no longer build coal-fired power stations overseas.

The United States

  • ‘The Climate Pledge’ commits to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 through the combined efforts of the world’s largest companies.
  • The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement under President Biden’s administration and pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030.


  • Committed to reducing emission levels of its economy by 45% and achieving around 50% of electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based resources by 2030.
  • Approximately 33 states and territories in India have announced state-level climate change plans. 


  • Between 2015 and 2020, Russia made differing commitments to cut greenhouse gas levels by 70% by 2030, and then later, this was changed to 30%. 
  • Russia’s pledges towards climate change are difficult to determine and have been criticised for being inadequate and unambitious. Despite being one of the world’s largest emitters, existing policies indicate no real commitment to curb emissions.


  • Aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46% by 2030.  
  • Develop new technologies by 2050 that contribute to reducing CO2 globally to ‘beyond zero’. 
  • Over 400 local governments have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. These represent the majority of Japan’s population.

Common themes and conclusions

When analysing the countries with the highest carbon footprint, it’s clear that there are many common challenges and similar sources of carbon emissions globally. 

The cause of these problems is the burning of coal, oil, and gas for energy generation and industrial purposes. Most nations heavily depend on coal to provide energy; this fuel is among the worst for producing carbon emissions.  

Despite the discouraging conclusions, some optimism can be taken from states’ and global authorities’ promises and agreements. Lowering carbon discharges and boosting sustainable energy sources is the initial step.

To make the necessary progress towards a more sustainable future, we must develop new technologies and assist people and businesses to transition to them. Grasping the origin of detrimental emissions is critical to formulating new plans to confront climate change. By embracing fresh, sustainable approaches, all of us can do our part in creating a brighter, more optimistic outlook for our planet.

It can be argued that technology has revolutionised the way we communicate. Through the use of digital devices, people can interact with each other quickly and easily from afar. This has drastically changed the way individuals communicate, enabling them to interact with one another more efficiently than ever before.

Becky Mckay
Written by Becky Mckay, Writer

Becky is an experienced SEO content writer specialising in sustainability and renewable trends. Her background in broadcast journalism inspires reliable content to help readers live more sustainably every day.

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