Which Countries’ Carbon Footprints Are Actually Increasing?

The Eco Experts
pollution in russia

71% of countries are seeing a rise in their emissions

India’s emissions have increased by 44% over the past decade

Saudi Arabia produces 18.3 tonnes of CO2e per person


Over the past decade, as climate change has begun wreaking havoc across the world, many countries have finally started to take their carbon footprints seriously.

We’ve seen wealthy nations like the UK, Germany, and the US slash their emissions as they try to fulfil net-zero goals that will reduce the catastrophic effects of this man-made phenomenon.

But carbon emissions are still rising worldwide, by 14% in the past 10 years (World Bank, 2022) – and 71% of countries have increased their emissions in that time.

Our in-depth analysis will tell you which countries are most to blame, and explain why their emissions are rising.

Countries with a growing carbon footprint

China

Carbon footprint: 11.7 billion tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 38%

 

China has the biggest carbon footprint in the world.

Since it’s the world’s most populated country, that makes sense – except that its emissions total is even bigger than the next seven nations on this list, combined.

China overtook the US at the top of the emissions standings in 2005. Just 12 years later, China was releasing more than twice as much CO2e* as its fellow superpower – and it hasn’t slowed down.

This nation’s 1,058 coal plants house more than half of the world’s capacity, and its coal consumption is responsible for eight billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.

The country’s oil consumption produces 2.3 billion tonnes of emissions – more than Brazil’s total emissions.

In total, China releases 2,885 times more greenhouse gases than the UK – a figure only slightly softened by the fact that China’s population is 21 times bigger than ours.

China’s authoritarian leaders have promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2060, with the crucial catch that they expect their emissions to continue growing this decade, and peak by 2030.

But constant economic growth is crucial to China’s plans to become the world’s undisputed top superpower – so don’t hold your breath for its emissions to drop any time soon.

 

*Carbon dioxide equivalent, calculated by comparing the effect of all other gases to that of CO2, to find one simple measure of greenhouse gases

India

Carbon footprint: 3.4 billion tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 44%

 

Like China, India is an enormous country – with well over a billion people – that’s expanding its economy rapidly, and has no plans to slow down.

India’s carbon footprint is currently three and a half times smaller than China’s – but it’s growing at a faster rate than the latter’s.

After overseeing an increase in his country’s carbon footprint since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged at COP26 in 2021 that India would reach net zero by 2070.

This is the latest such goal put forward by any nation, and shows an unfortunate lack of ambition. We hoped for more from the third-biggest emitter in the world.

It should be said that India currently emits 2.4 tonnes per person – less than half of the UK’s emissions – and as former colonial rulers, the UK must take responsibility for India’s stymied development. More time and funding is needed to help this nation decarbonise.

Modi also committed the country to getting 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

This plan is more encouraging, and attracted plaudits back home, but it would still only represent a moderate increase from India’s current level of around 38%.

We can expect to see India start to reduce its carbon footprint at some point in the coming decades – it just won’t be quick enough without outside help.

Brazil

Carbon footprint: 2.2 billion tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 2.9%

 

Brazil’s emissions total has barely risen in the past decade – so should we be concerned? Well, partly because the world has to massively slash emissions rather than keep the status quo, but there’s also a bigger problem at play here.

In 2011, Brazil’s carbon footprint dropped to 1.27 billion tonnes – a reduction of 41% from the year before. It was an incredible step, and one that seemed to herald a bright future.

Fast forward to the presidency of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro, and Brazil started growing its carbon footprint once again.

While the world as a whole experienced a 7% drop in greenhouse gas emissions as COVID-19 swept around the globe, Brazil’s emissions rose by 9.5%, according to Reuters.

The precious Amazon rainforest has been depleted under Bolsonaro, to the extent that it now releases more greenhouse gases than it absorbs.

Brazilian academics and activists have warned that the Amazon will collapse entirely if Bolsonaro doesn’t leave office soon, and we can expect the country’s emissions to keep rising at the same time.

amazon rainforest deforestation

Russia

Carbon footprint: 2 billion tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 15%

 

Russia’s carbon footprint equates to 14 tonnes per person, one of the highest in the world – and it may actually be higher.

The country has repeatedly altered its own estimates, and is now massively underestimating its methane emissions – with seemingly little enthusiasm for fixing the issue.

There are complicated cultural reasons for this lack of concern, but a large part of it stems from Russia’s reliance on its fossil-fuel-powered energy industry.

It’s the second-largest gas producer and third-largest oil producer in the world, with much of this fuel exported abroad – which leads to huge revenues and an undue amount of influence for the Kremlin.

We shouldn’t expect too much sympathy for the world’s plight from President Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia since 2000.

As recently as 2018, he blamed climate change on “invisible moves in the galaxy.” He has struck a less willingly ignorant note since 2020, but still downplays the effect that humanity can have on the climate.

Largely as a result of Putin’s approach to the issue, the Climate Action Tracker has rated Russia’s efforts to reduce its emissions as “critically insufficient,” and accused the Eastern European nation of taking “minimal to no action.”

This almost certainly won’t change any time soon.

Saudi Arabia

Carbon footprint: 638 million tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 42%

 

There are bigger greenhouse gas emitters than Saudi Arabia – Indonesia, Iran, and Mexico all release more – but none of them can compete with Saudi Arabia’s 18.3 tonnes per person figure.

This is ridiculously high, and is largely down to the Kingdom’s status as a major fossil fuel producer, which it has no plans to move away from.

In fact, just before Saudi Arabia announced it would aim for net zero by 2060, its national oil company, Saudi Aramco, said it was targeting an increase in oil production capacity by 2030, despite already being the biggest oil exporter in the world.

The Kingdom has said oil revenues – which make up 60% of its budget – will fund its move to renewable power, but this is doubtful and ethically dubious.

It’s doubtful because the country often creates apparently encouraging renewable goals, then fails to follow through.

One of these targets states that Saudi Arabia will generate 50% of its electricity with renewable methods by 2030. This figure currently stands at 0.1%.

And it’s ethically dubious because the exported oil will create millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases – which will only be attributed to the countries who consume the oil, not to Saudi Arabia.

The repressive country stabilised and even slightly lowered its emissions total from 2016 to 2018, after doubling its total from in just 13 years from 2002 to 2015.

But this must be weighed against the country’s position as one of the leading producers and exporters of fossil fuels, and its refusal to take responsibility for the effects of their use.

South Korea

Carbon footprint: 673 million tonnes

Increase in the past 10 years: 29%

 

South Korea emits 13 tonnes of CO2e per person, an extremely high amount that’s mostly produced by its energy usage.

The country doesn’t produce much energy, so it imports it, mainly in the form of oil, gas, and coal.

76% of South Korea’s energy is powered by fossil fuels, one of the highest proportions in the world – and it uses a lot of energy.

The East Asian nation is the seventh-highest consumer of electricity in the world – above countries like the UK, Germany, and France, which all have larger populations and economies.

Thankfully, South Korea is taking actions to reduce its emissions in the future, even if they’re only moderately encouraging steps.

Like the UK, South Korea has signed into law its pledge to reach net zero by 2050, and is also aiming to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030.

To reach this goal, the government has come up with a number of ideas, including giving electric vehicle buyers a 19 million won (£11,700) discount.

This contrasts sharply with the UK, which cut its grant for electric cars by £1,000, to just £1,500, in December 2021.

South Korea also wants to increase renewables’ share of its electricity mix from its current 6.2% level to 30.2% by 2030.

The country will no doubt start reducing its carbon footprint soon, due to these positive moves, but they’re still not enough.

Summary

The great majority of countries’ carbon footprints are increasing.

Outside of Europe and the US, there are precious few nations that have succeeded in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s so rare, in fact, that we should pay tribute to countries like Japan, New Zealand, Israel, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have managed to at least stabilise their emissions.

We need global action, and we need it soon – but the UK must also take responsibility, and help other nations to decarbonise.

After all, our emissions level per person is 2.5 times higher than India’s, and since the Industrial Revolution, the UK has emitted 78 billion tonnes of emissions – the fifth-highest total in history.

josh jackman
Josh Jackman Senior Writer

Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past three years. His work has featured on the front page of the Financial Times; he’s been interviewed by BBC Radio; and he was the resident expert in BT’s smart home tech initiative.

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