Top CO2 polluters and highest per capita

The biggest absolute emissions come from China and the United States. In terms of CO2 emissions per capita, China is ranked only ranked 47th, at 7.5 metric tonnes per capita. The US is ranked 11th at 16.5 per capita and amongst countries with sizeable populations, has the highest CO2 emissions per capita. India is the third highest country in terms of absolute emissions, but only 158th in terms of per capita output with 1.7 metric tonnes per capita.

Selected countries CO2 emissions per capita

co2-emissions-per-capitaSource: World Bank

What explains variation in CO2 emissions per capita?

  • Levels of GDP. Countries with higher real incomes can afford to use more petrol and industrial production which causes pollution. By comparison, the lowest income countries have very limited industrial production and consumption of oil. However, that is only one factor, for example, the Netherlands has double CO2 emissions than France with similar GDP per capita.
  • Focus of the economy. Economies based on oil  (like Qatar, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates) have the highest levels of CO2 per capita. Qatar has a rate of 45.4 (off the chart) – small population but production based on oil exploration and oil refining.
  • Transport policy. Levels of petrol tax and balance of transport modes can influence CO2 emissions. Countries with highest levels of car use lead to more CO2 emissions. (See: relative petrol prices around the world, e.g. compare US with western Europe)
  • Policies to reduce CO2 emissions. To meet global warming targets countries have adopted policies, such as carbon tax and regulation to reduce pollution.
  • Modes of Power generation. The burning of fossil fuels (e.g. coal-powered electricity stations) is one of biggest causes of CO2 emissions. Countries which gain energy from renewables have lower CO2 emissions per capita.

Changes in CO2 emissions per capita


China’s CO2 emissions per capita have more than tripled in past 15 years.


Highest Total CO2 emissions by country (kT)

The total level of CO2 emission by kilo Tonne.

2United States5,254,279
8Saudi Arabia601,046
9Korea, Rep.587,156
12South Africa489,771
15United Kingdom419,820


Source: World Bank

Lowest CO2 emissions per Capita

By comparison, some of the poorest countries produce practically zero CO2 emissions per capital

Central African Republic0.061
Congo, Dem. Rep.0.049


Readers Question: Why don’t countries use the carbon tax?

  • Taxes are generally politically unpopular. A tax on carbon emissions will affect the living costs of many people. This can make the government reluctant to impose the tax.
  • There is also the free rider problem. A small country may think – what is the point in introducing carbon tax when their CO2 emissions are dwarfed by other countries like China and the US? Especially, when these bigger countries don’t seem inclined to do too much about the issue.
  • There are also differing opinions about the potential cost of CO2 emissions to the environment. In the US, there is a strong lobby which argues global warming is not scientifically proven. Therefore, there is a resistance to impeded CO2 emissions.
  • Another factor is that there are significant vested interests in the oil industry / other industries which pollute. They fear CO2 tax will reduce their profitability so they are willing to fight against moves to introduce taxes.
  • Another argument used is that a Carbon tax will harm jobs.


3 thoughts on “Top CO2 polluters and highest per capita

  1. Lowest CO2 per person is not a crieteria, more populous country will have the least value. Total emissions must be a guide. However thermal power plants and number of vehicles and Air- traffice in a country must be correlating parameters. Further Natural emissions for an acre in wet lands must be eliminated from imposing penalities on a country for excess carbon production

  2. “Total emissions must be a guide” No sir. Total emission is directly proportional to numbers of active persons per country. Look at it this way, 24 litres of clean water per person per day, how much would you require for 10 people per day? Therefore emission per capita is still the correct and acceptable metrics to judge emission.

  3. The “why is there no carbon tax” section misses the real reason, IMO. Most fuel sources are subsidized by the government to stimulate the economy. Preferring one energy source over another is normally a case of shifting subsidies around – rather than taxation. An energy source would have to be very, very bad to warrant actual taxation – and few sources qualify.

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