The Paris Agreement in 2015 was an historic accord that committed nations on every continent to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The goal was to limit the rise in mean global temperature to less than a 2ºC (3.6ºF) – and preferably no more than a 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) – differential over pre-industrial levels. The agreement operates on a five-year cycle and during that time nations take action to reduce their carbon emissions. In 2020, the signatory countries submitted plans for climate action called nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Even as nations endeavor to shift to renewables and away from oil, coal, and natural gas, however, they still require fossil fuels to operate their economies. And some remain the biggest producers of CO2 in the world.
To determine the 50 countries with the world’s highest CO2 emissions per capita in 2019, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data for some 148 countries from the International Energy Agency’s GHG Emissions from Energy 2021 Edition report. Countries are ranked by CO2 emissions in metric tons per population. Data on CO2 emissions in 2010 is also given in metric tons per population. Data on CO2 emission per GDP is given in kg of CO2 per GDP in 2015 U.S. dollars, and data on total greenhouse gas emissions from energy is given in million metric tons of the CO2 equivalent. All data comes from the IEA.
European and Asian countries dominate the list, although nations from every continent except Antarctica are represented. Even Western European nations such as The Netherlands and Norway that are considered leaders in the move toward a sustainable future, are still using fossil fuels, so have found a place here. (These are the 40 countries that are decreasing emissions the fastest.)
Eastern European countries striving to recover from the legacy of the command economies that stifled economic progress during the communist era are using dirty energy sources such as coal to build their economies. Their environments are among the most polluted in Europe because of smoke-belching factories and older, less-efficient vehicles powered by diesel fuel. (Here are 26 countries that consume more energy than they produce.)
In Asia, nations on the Arabian Peninsula such as Qatar and Bahrain, among the richest countries in the world per capita, are also among the highest in CO2 emissions because their economies are based on the drilling and distribution of oil. Four of the five countries with the highest CO2 emissions per capita are on the Arabian Peninsula.