Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions are the dominant driver of climate change. These began rising during the Industrial Revolution (especially after 1850)—which means richer countries like the United States, which made an early transition to a heavily fossil fuel-based economic system, have an outsized role in contributing to the climate impacts we see around the world today.
Both in terms of cumulative emissions, and current per capita emissions, richer countries rank high. Conversely, low- and middle-income countries have lower cumulative historical emissions and per capita emissions. Even within countries, it is the relatively rich that are most responsible for a majority of carbon emissions.
Top 15 CO2 Emitting Countries, 1750-2020 (from fossil fuels and cement)
The rankings change when we account for the population of each country (ie, per capita emissions).
The 20 countries that emitted the most carbon dioxide in 2019
The picture that emerges from these figures is one where—in general—developed countries and major emerging economy nations lead in total carbon dioxide emissions.
However, developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while some developing countries lead in the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions. These uneven contributions to the climate crisis are at the core of the challenges the world community faces in finding effective and equitable solutions to global warming.