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Homepage Global carbon emissions | v1.1 | energy.at-site.be | August 2020

How much carbon do we emit?

Short answer: on average 13.2 kilogram carbon dioxide per day per person in 2018.

Motivation: wanted to see how man-made carbon (CO2) emissions evolved over time, their impact on the global climate and see what it takes to reduce carbon emissions from cars.

Fossil fuels are a reliable and affordable source of energy for many applications. Unfortunately the burning of fossils causes a significant increase of carbon (CO2 gas - carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming since CO2 is a non-condensing greenhouse gas that has a multiplier effect on water vapor, another potent greenhouse gas. For more information about greenhouse gasses we refer to the summary of NASA [1].

On this page we show how much CO2 is emitted, and do so by using visualizations and data from Our World In Data [2], covering years up to 2018. We do so in four parts:

Unless otherwise mentioned, figures provided by our world in data [2] are licensed under CC BY 4.0 terms, and can be recognized by the "Our World in Data" logo.

1. CO2 emissions ranked per region

The total CO2 emission world-wide is estimated to be 36.6 billion tonne for 2018. Of this almost 60% is produced by China, the USA, the EU28 and india; which contain 47% of the global population. If we look at emission levels per person we see significant differences between these regions, and shown in Table 1, using data from [2][4][5]. The global CO2 emission average is 13.2 kilogram per day per person (kg/d/p).

Table 1. Carbon footprint of of the world in 2018, and for China, USA, EU28 and India.

country/regionmillion persons [4][5]Gtonne CO2 CO2 %tonne CO2/year/personAverage kg CO2/day/person
World759336.6 Gtonne100%4.82 tonne/y/p13.2 kg/d/p
China139310.1 Gtonne27.5%7.22 tonne/y/p19.8 kg/d/p
USA326.75.42 Gtonne14.8%16.6 tonne/y/p45.5 kg/d/p
EU-28512.43.44 Gtonne9.40%6.71 tonne/y/p18.4 kg/d/p
India13532.65 Gtonne7.24%1.96 tonne/y/p5.37 kg/d/p

2. Annual CO2 emissions by region and source

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels started in the mid 18th century. Figure 1 shows the emissions by region from then till now. Since 1950 emissions increased seven fold. Figure 2 provides a similar view by source. Coal, oil and natural gas dominate. Two other sources are cement production and gas flaring during fossil fuel production.

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Figure 1. Annual CO2 emissions by region in Giga-Tonne. A relative view is available too and the Table view lists CO2 emissions per country.
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Figure 2. Annual CO2 emissions by source in Giga-Tonne (billion Tonne). Dominant sources are coal, oil and natural gas. Different regions can be selected. A relative view is available too.

3. Correlation of atmospheric CO2 concentration and temperature, and scenarios for the 21st century

Since 1850 the atmospheric concentration of CO2 has risen by about 40 percent to 420 parts per million (Figure 3), whereas it fluctuated between 200 and 300 ppm in the past 800 thousand years [10]. So the recent rise to over 400 ppm is likely human made by burning fossil fuels. While greenhouse gasses such as CO2 are vital to obtain temperatures that can sustain life on earth, too much of them can lead to global warming. This is shown in Figure 4, where we see a global temperature increase correlated with the increase of carbon emissions, and with visible effects world-wide, such as melting of glaciers for example. A more detailed temperature overview for the past 40 years uses the NASA MERRA-2 data-set [6]. This data provides a more local view on climate change and the main observations are:

Since the climate change has a planetary impact the International Panel on Climate Change was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change and potential future risks. Figure 5 shows a number of climate scenarios that plot potential global warming in function of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse emissions. Current consensus amongst climate scientists is that a significant reduction of greenhouse gasses is required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

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Figure 3. Atmospheric CO2 concentration from 1979 till now.
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Figure 4. Average global temperature anomaly from 1850 to now. A shorter time span is available too.
our world in data // global greenhouse gas emission scenarios
Figure 5. Global greenhouse gas emission scenarios, using data from climateactiontracker.org, edition December 2018. Picture licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser.

4. CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions and application type of fossil fuels

While CO2 is a significant man-made greenhouse gas, other man-made greenhouse gasses as methane also have an impact as shown in Figure 6. Not shown is water vapor, the dominant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Water vapor can condense, reducing its amount by rain or snow. Positive (more water vapor) and negative (more clouds) feedback loops can exist between man-made greenhouse gasses and water vapor. Man made greenhouse gasses are non-condensable and build up in the atmosphere. Still they also decrease over time, with most methane removed in a time-span of about 12 years, whereas the CO2 lifetime cannot be expressed as a single value [7].

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Figure 6. Greenhouse gas emission by gas type, expressed in equivalent CO2 emission. Region or country can be selected, as well as time span.

Figure 7 shows the relative CO2 emission footprint for different uses. These often rely on easy storage and availability of energy. Depending on selected country or region, the relative emissions per sector can vary significantly.

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Figure 7. Relative CO2 emissions per type of fossil fuel use. Region or country can be selected.

Nowadays it is easy to find estimates of how many grams of CO2 a car emits per kilometer, which looks like a small quantity. However we know from Table 1 that the daily average CO2 emissions per person only total 13.2 kg world-wide and only part of that is available for personal transport. So let's do some back of the envelope calculations of how far we can drive with different types of cars if we assume average emissions per person.

From Figure 7 we see that about 20% of CO2 emissions are caused by transport. Let us assume that half of that is used for big machines such as boats, planes, trucks, tractors and bulldozers for example. So what's left for cars is 10% of CO2 emissions per day per average person, or on average 1.3 kg CO2 by day per person (kg CO2/d/p). From the scenarios in Figure 5 we see that a reduction of carbon emissions is desirable, so we also do a what if analysis by halving this budget to 0.65 kg CO2/d/p.

Results are shown in Table 2 for three use cases:

The computations are easy to make, and for each scenario we see the range per day and per year per person. We see that big ICE cars consume most, resulting that their carbon budget is consumed the fastest, resulting in the lowest range. Choosing smaller form factors reduces carbon emissions. Electric cars further reduce emissions, especially when a cleaner energy mix is used producing electricity. This results in a larger available range per person for a fixed carbon budget. E-bikes fare best with a virtual unlimited range, which will be limited in practice by time to recharge its battery and its modest speeds.

Table 2. Range budget for personal transport of an average person assuming 1.3 kg CO2/day/person budget, and impact of halving this.

ICE-car(1)liter/100kmMPG (USA)gram CO2/km [9]km/d/pkm/y/p1/2 km/d/p1/2 km/y/p
big petrol car10.5 l/100km22.5 MPG250 g/km5.2 km/d/p1 900 km/y/p2.6 km/d/p950 km/y/p
big diesel car9.47 l/100km24.8 MPG250 g/km5.2 km/d/p1 900 km/y/p2.6 km/d/p950 km/y/p
small petrol car5.23 l/100km45.0 MPG125 g/km10.4 km/d/p3 800 km/y/p5.2 km/d/p1 900 km/y/p
small diesel car4.73 l/100km49.7 MPG125 g/km10.4 km/d/p3 800 km/y/p5.2 km/d/p1 900 km/y/p
E-carkWh/100kmgram CO2/kWhgram CO2/kmkm/d/pkm/y/p1/2 km/d/p1/2 km/y/p
big E-car25 kWh/100km500 g/kWh125 g/km10.4 km/d/p3 800 km/y/p5.2 km/d/p1 900 km/y/p
big E-car25 kWh/100km250 g/kWh62.5 g/km20.8 km/d/p7 600 km/y/p10.4 km/d/p3 800 km/y/p
big E-car25 kWh/100km125 g/kWh31.3 g/km41.6 km/d/p15 000 km/y/p20.8 km/d/p7 600 km/y/p
small E-car15 kWh/100km500 g/kWh75.0 g/km17.3 km/d/p6 300 km/y/p8.67 km/d/p3 200 km/y/p
small E-car15 kWh/100km250 g/kWh37.5 g/km34.7 km/d/p13 000 km/y/p17.3 km/d/p6 300 km/y/p
small E-car15 kWh/100km125 g/kWh18.8 g/km69.3 km/d/p25 000 km/y/p34.7 km/d/p13 000 km/y/p
E-bike(2)kWh/100kmgram CO2/kWhgram CO2/kmkm/d/pkm/y/p1/2 km/d/p1/2 km/y/p
E-bike1 kWh/100km500 g/kWh5.00 g/km260 km/d/p95 000 km/y/p130 km/d/p47 000 km/y/p
E-bike1 kWh/100km250 g/kWh2.50 g/km520 km/d/p190 000 km/y/p260 km/d/p95 000 km/y/p
E-bike1 kWh/100km125 g/kWh1.25 g/km1 040 km/d/p380 000 km/y/p520 km/d/p190 000 km/y/p
(1) ICE = Internal Combustion Engine.
(2) E-bikes in ECO mode easily halve consumption and CO2 emission.

Still surprising is the low amount of available car kilometers per year per person for the chosen carbon budget. A few observations are:

5. Conclusion

The shown figures from Our World in Data show the evolution man-made carbon emissions over the past century, significantly increasing from 1950 onward. This has a significant impact on the atmosphere of our planet, and is likely correlated with rising global temperatures. Still reducing our fossil fuel addiction will likely mean changing our habits as well, as illustrated for personal transport. We see that electrical car result in less carbon for driving compared to cars with an internal combustion engine, and this improves when using a less carbon intensive energy mix for generating electricity. Still other means of transport, such as an e-bike outperfom cars by more than an order of magnitude. Also video calling can reduce overall transport. Hence we can expect a combination of techniquies will be used to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.

Acknowledgement: many thanks to the Our World in Data team for open access to their data and interactive figures. Website: ourworldindata.org. Most Our World in Data work is licensed under CC BY 4.0, unless mentioned otherwise.


NASA: The Causes of Climate Change
Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) - "CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions". Published online at OurWorldInData.org
Global carbon atlas - years 1960 to 2018
World bank population data - year 2018
Eurostat EU28 population - year 2018
Post processed MERRA 2 weather data
EPA, "Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases"
Real-time C02 intensity of electricity generation
Ecoscore, How to calculate the CO2 emission from the fuel consumption.
NASA: How Do We Know Climate Change Is Real?


July 2023
version 1.3, minor corrections, fixed broken links and refer to [1] NASA instead of ACS.
October 2021
version 1.2, minor corrections, fixed broken links.
August 2020
version 1.1, updated data to the year 2018, simplified layout and did some estimates on carbon footprint of cars.
June 2019
version 1.0, initial version
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