Greenhouse gas emissions are emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change by creating a greenhouse effect in the earth's atmosphere. These emissions are mainly carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of fossil fuels, principally coal, petroleum (including oil) and natural gas; however, these also include deforestation and other changes in land use. A 2017 survey of corporations responsible for global emissions found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of global direct and indirect emissions, and that state-owned companies were responsible for 59% of their emissions.
There are multiple types of greenhouse gases, so different emissions come from different sectors. For example, the leading source of anthropogenic methane emissions is agriculture, closely followed by gas venting and fugitive emissions from the fossil-fuel industry. Traditional rice cultivation is the second biggest agricultural methane source after livestock, with a near-term warming impact equivalent to the carbon-dioxide emissions from all aviation. Similarly, fluorinated gases from refrigerants play an outsized role in total human emissions.
At current emission rates, temperatures could increase by 2 °C (3.6 °F), which the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) designated as the upper limit to avoid a "dangerous threshold of worldwide environmental ruin by 2036."
Measurements and calculations
Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide (N
2O) and three groups of fluorinated gases (sulfur hexafluoride (SF
6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs)) are the major anthropogenic greenhouse gases,:147 and are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol international treaty, which came into force in 2005. Emissions limitations specified in the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012. The Cancún agreement, agreed on in 2010, includes voluntary pledges made by 76 countries to control emissions. At the time of the agreement, these 76 countries were collectively responsible for 85% of annual global emissions.
Although CFCs are greenhouse gases, they are regulated by the Montreal Protocol, which was motivated by CFCs' contribution to ozone depletion rather than by their contribution to global warming. Note that ozone depletion has only a minor role in greenhouse warming, though the two processes often are confused in the media. In 2016, negotiators from over 170 nations meeting at the summit of the United Nations Environment Programme reached a legally binding accord to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in an amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
- Definition of measurement boundaries: Emissions can be attributed geographically, to the area where they were emitted (the territory principle) or by the activity principle to the territory produced the emissions. These two principles result in different totals when measuring, for example, electricity importation from one country to another, or emissions at an international airport.
- Time horizon of different gases: Contribution of a given greenhouse gas is reported as a CO
2 equivalent. The calculation to determine this takes into account how long that gas remains in the atmosphere. This is not always known accurately and calculations must be regularly updated to reflect new information.
- What sectors are included in the calculation (e.g., energy industries, industrial processes, agriculture etc.): There is often a conflict between transparency and availability of data.
- The measurement protocol itself: This may be via direct measurement or estimation. The four main methods are the emission factor-based method, mass balance method, predictive emissions monitoring systems, and continuous emissions monitoring systems. These methods differ in accuracy, cost, and usability. Public information from space-based measurements of carbon dioxide by Climate Trace is expected to reveal individual large plants before the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
These measures are sometimes used by countries to assert various policy/ethical positions on climate change.:94 The use of different measures leads to a lack of comparability, which is problematic when monitoring progress towards targets. There are arguments for the adoption of a common measurement tool, or at least the development of communication between different tools.
Emissions may be measured over long time periods. This measurement type is called historical or cumulative emissions. Cumulative emissions give some indication of who is responsible for the build-up in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.:199
The national accounts balance would be positively related to carbon emissions. The national accounts balance shows the difference between exports and imports. For many richer nations, such as the United States, the accounts balance is negative because more goods are imported than they are exported. This is mostly due to the fact that it is cheaper to produce goods outside of developed countries, leading the economies of developed countries to become increasingly dependent on services and not goods. We believed that a positive accounts balance would means that more production was occurring in a country, so more factories working would increase carbon emission levels.
Emissions may also be measured across shorter time periods. Emissions changes may, for example, be measured against a base year of 1990. 1990 was used in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as the base year for emissions, and is also used in the Kyoto Protocol (some gases are also measured from the year 1995).:146, 149 A country's emissions may also be reported as a proportion of global emissions for a particular year.
Another measurement is of per capita emissions. This divides a country's total annual emissions by its mid-year population.:370 Per capita emissions may be based on historical or annual emissions.:106–107
While cities are sometimes considered to be disproportionate contributors to emissions, per-capita emissions tend to be lower for cities than the averages in their countries.
Since about 1750 human activity has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As of 2001, measured atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide were 100 ppm higher than pre-industrial levels.[needs update] Natural sources of carbon dioxide are more than 20 times greater than sources due to human activity, but over periods longer than a few years natural sources are closely balanced by natural sinks, mainly photosynthesis of carbon compounds by plants and marine plankton. As a result of this balance, the atmospheric mole fraction of carbon dioxide remained between 260 and 280 parts per million for the 10,000 years between the end of the last glacial maximum and the start of the industrial era. Absorption of terrestrial infrared radiation by longwave absorbing gases such as these greenhouse gases make Earth an efficient[clarification needed] emitter. Therefore, in order for Earth to emit as much energy as is absorbed, global temperatures must increase.
It is likely that anthropogenic (human-induced) warming, such as that due to elevated greenhouse gas levels, has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems. Warming is having a range of impacts, including sea level rise, increased frequencies and severities of some extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, and regional changes in agricultural productivity.
The main sources of greenhouse gases due to human activity are:
- burning of fossil fuels and deforestation leading to higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the air. Land use change (mainly deforestation in the tropics) account for up to one third of total anthropogenic CO
- livestock enteric fermentation and manure management, paddy rice farming, land use and wetland changes, man-made lakes, pipeline losses, and covered vented landfill emissions leading to higher methane atmospheric concentrations. Many of the newer style fully vented septic systems that enhance and target the fermentation process also are sources of atmospheric methane.
- use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration systems, and use of CFCs and halons in fire suppression systems and manufacturing processes.
- agricultural activities, including the use of fertilizers, that lead to higher nitrous oxide (N
The seven sources of CO
2 from fossil fuel combustion are (with percentage contributions for 2000–2004):
- Liquid fuels (e.g., gasoline, fuel oil): 36%
- Solid fuels (e.g., coal): 35%
- Gaseous fuels (e.g., natural gas): 20%
- Cement production:3 %
- Flaring gas industrially and at wells: 1%
- Non-fuel hydrocarbons:1%
- "International bunker fuels" of transport not included in national inventories: 4%
Emissions by sector
|Food Types||Greenhouse Gas Emissions (g CO2-Ceq per g protein)|
Global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to different sectors of the economy. This provides a picture of the varying contributions of different types of economic activity to global warming, and helps in understanding the changes required to mitigate climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), GHG emissions in the United States can be traced from different sectors.
Manmade greenhouse gas emissions can be divided into those that arise from the combustion of fuels to produce energy, and those generated by other processes. Around two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions arise from the combustion of fuels.
Energy may be produced at the point of consumption, or by a generator for consumption by others. Thus emissions arising from energy production may be categorized according to where they are emitted, or where the resulting energy is consumed. If emissions are attributed at the point of production, then electricity generators contribute about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If these emissions are attributed to the final consumer then 24% of total emissions arise from manufacturing and construction, 17% from transportation, 11% from domestic consumers, and 7% from commercial consumers. Around 4% of emissions arise from the energy consumed by the energy and fuel industry itself.
The remaining third of emissions arise from processes other than energy production. 12% of total emissions arise from agriculture, 7% from land use change and forestry, 6% from industrial processes, and 3% from waste. Around 6% of emissions are fugitive emissions, which are waste gases released by the extraction of fossil fuels.
Approximately 3.5% of the overall human impact on climate are from the aviation sector. The impact of the sector on climate in the late 20 years had doubled, but the part of the contribution of the sector in comparison to other sectors did not change because other sectors grew as well.
Buildings and construction
In 2018, manufacturing construction materials and maintaining buildings accounted for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions from energy and process-related emissions. Manufacture of glass, cement, and steel accounted for 11% of energy and process-related emissions. Because building construction is a significant investment, more than two-thirds of buildings in existence will still exist in 2050. Retrofitting existing buildings to become more efficient will be necessary to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement; it will be insufficient to only apply low-emission standards to new construction. Buildings that produce as much energy as they consume are called zero-energy buildings, while buildings that produce more than they consume are energy-plus. Low-energy buildings are designed to be highly efficient with low total energy consumption and carbon emissions—a popular type is the passive house.
In 2017 the digital sector produced 3.3% of global GHG emissions, above civil aviation (2%). In 2020 this is expected to reach 4%, the equivalent emissions of India in 2015.[needs update] However the sector reduces emissions from other sectors which have a larger global share, such as transport of people.
Electricity generation emits over a quarter of global greenhouse gases. Coal-fired power stations are the single largest emitter, with over 10 Gt CO
2 in 2018. Although much less polluting than coal plants, natural gas-fired power plants are also major emitters.
The pharmaceutical industry emitted 52 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2015. This is more than the automotive sector. However this analysis used the combined emissions of conglomerates which produce pharmaceuticals as well as other products.
Plastic is produced mainly from fossil fuels. Plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production. The EPA estimates as many as five mass units of carbon dioxide are emitted for each mass unit of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) produced—the type of plastic most commonly used for beverage bottles, the transportation produce greenhouse gases also. Plastic waste emits carbon dioxide when it degrades. In 2018 research claimed that some of the most common plastics in the environment release the greenhouse gases methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight in an amount that can affect the earth climate.
From the other side, if it is placed in a landfill, it becomes a carbon sink although biodegradable plastics have caused methane emissions. Due to the lightness of plastic versus glass or metal, plastic may reduce energy consumption. For example, packaging beverages in PET plastic rather than glass or metal is estimated to save 52% in transportation energy, if the glass or metal package is single-use, of course.
In 2019 a new report "Plastic and Climate" was published. According to the report plastic will contribute greenhouse gases in the equivalent of 850 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere in 2019. In current trend, annual emissions will grow to 1.34 billion tonnes by 2030. By 2050 plastic could emit 56 billion tonnes of Greenhouse gas emissions, as much as 14 percent of the Earth's remaining carbon budget. The report says that only solutions which involve a reduction in consumption can solve the problem, while others like biodegradable plastic, ocean cleanup, using renewable energy in plastic industry can do little, and in some cases may even worsen it.
Wastewater as well as sanitation systems are known to contribute to greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) mainly through the breakdown of excreta during the treatment process. This results in the generation of methane gas, that is then released into the environment. Emissions from the sanitation and wastewater sector have been focused mainly on treatment systems, particularly treatment plants, and this accounts for the bulk of the carbon footprint for the sector.
In as much as climate impacts from wastewater and sanitation systems present global risks, low-income countries experience greater risks in many cases. In recent years,[when?] attention to adaptation needs within the sanitation sector is just beginning to gain momentum.
According to UNEP, global tourism is closely linked to climate change. Tourism is a significant contributor to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Tourism accounts for about 50% of traffic movements. Rapidly expanding air traffic contributes about 2.5% of the production of CO
2. The number of international travelers is expected to increase from 594 million in 1996 to 1.6 billion by 2020, adding greatly to the problem unless steps are taken to reduce emissions.[needs update]
Trucking and haulage
This section needs to be updated.(September 2019)
The trucking and haulage industry plays a part in production of CO
2, contributing around 20% of the UK's total carbon emissions a year, with only the energy industry having a larger impact at around 39%.[globalize] Average carbon emissions within the haulage industry are falling—in the thirty-year period from 1977 to 2007, the carbon emissions associated with a 200-mile journey fell by 21 percent.[globalize]
By socio-economic class
Fueled by the consumptive lifestyle of wealthy people, the wealthiest 5% of the global population has been responsible for 37% of the absolute increase in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Almost half of the increase in absolute global emissions has been caused by the richest 10% of the population.
By energy source
|Currently commercially available technologies|
|Coal – PC||740||820||910|
|Gas – combined cycle||410||490||650|
|Biomass – Dedicated||130||230||420|
|Solar PV – Utility scale||18||48||180|
|Solar PV – rooftop||26||41||60|
|Concentrated solar power||8.8||27||63|
|Ocean (Tidal and wave)||5.6||17||28|
2 emission from various fuels
One liter of gasoline, when used as a fuel, produces 2.32 kg (about 1300 liters or 1.3 cubic meters) of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. One US gallon produces 19.4 lb (1,291.5 gallons or 172.65 cubic feet).
|Liquefied petroleum gas||139||59.76||215.14|
|Tires/tire derived fuel||189||81.26||292.54|
|Wood and wood waste||195||83.83||301.79|
|Tar-sand bitumen|||||||
Regional and national attribution of emissions
From land-use change
Land-use change, e.g., the clearing of forests for agricultural use, can affect the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by altering how much carbon flows out of the atmosphere into carbon sinks. Accounting for land-use change can be understood as an attempt to measure "net" emissions, i.e., gross emissions from all sources minus the removal of emissions from the atmosphere by carbon sinks (Banuri et al., 1996, pp. 92–93).
There are substantial uncertainties in the measurement of net carbon emissions. Additionally, there is controversy over how carbon sinks should be allocated between different regions and over time (Banuri et al., 1996, p. 93). For instance, concentrating on more recent changes in carbon sinks is likely to favour those regions that have deforested earlier, e.g., Europe.
Greenhouse gas intensity
Greenhouse gas intensity is a ratio between greenhouse gas emissions and another metric, e.g., gross domestic product (GDP) or energy use. The terms "carbon intensity" and "emissions intensity" are also sometimes used. Emission intensities may be calculated using market exchange rates (MER) or purchasing power parity (PPP) (Banuri et al., 1996, p. 96). Calculations based on MER show large differences in intensities between developed and developing countries, whereas calculations based on PPP show smaller differences.
Cumulative and historical emissions
Cumulative anthropogenic (i.e., human-emitted) emissions of CO
2 from fossil fuel use are a major cause of global warming, and give some indication of which countries have contributed most to human-induced climate change.:15 Overall, developed countries accounted for 83.8% of industrial CO
2 emissions over this time period, and 67.8% of total CO
2 emissions. Developing countries accounted for industrial CO
2 emissions of 16.2% over this time period, and 32.2% of total CO
2 emissions. The estimate of total CO
2 emissions includes biotic carbon emissions, mainly from deforestation. Banuri et al. (1996, p. 94) calculated per capita cumulative emissions based on then-current population. The ratio in per capita emissions between industrialized countries and developing countries was estimated at more than 10 to 1.
Including biotic emissions brings about the same controversy mentioned earlier regarding carbon sinks and land-use change (Banuri et al., 1996, pp. 93–94). The actual calculation of net emissions is very complex, and is affected by how carbon sinks are allocated between regions and the dynamics of the climate system.
Non-OECD countries accounted for 42% of cumulative energy-related CO
2 emissions between 1890 and 2007.:179–80 Over this time period, the US accounted for 28% of emissions; the EU, 23%; Russia, 11%; China, 9%; other OECD countries, 5%; Japan, 4%; India, 3%; and the rest of the world, 18%.:179–80
Changes since a particular base year
Between 1970 and 2004, global growth in annual CO
2 emissions was driven by North America, Asia, and the Middle East. The sharp acceleration in CO
2 emissions since 2000 to more than a 3% increase per year (more than 2 ppm per year) from 1.1% per year during the 1990s is attributable to the lapse of formerly declining trends in carbon intensity of both developing and developed nations. China was responsible for most of global growth in emissions during this period. Localised plummeting emissions associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union have been followed by slow emissions growth in this region due to more efficient energy use, made necessary by the increasing proportion of it that is exported. In comparison, methane has not increased appreciably, and N
2O by 0.25% y−1.
Using different base years for measuring emissions has an effect on estimates of national contributions to global warming.:17–18 This can be calculated by dividing a country's highest contribution to global warming starting from a particular base year, by that country's minimum contribution to global warming starting from a particular base year. Choosing between base years of 1750, 1900, 1950, and 1990 has a significant effect for most countries.:17���18 Within the G8 group of countries, it is most significant for the UK, France and Germany. These countries have a long history of CO
2 emissions (see the section on Cumulative and historical emissions).
Annual per capita emissions in the industrialized countries are typically as much as ten times the average in developing countries.:144 Due to China's fast economic development, its annual per capita emissions are quickly approaching the levels of those in the Annex I group of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e., the developed countries excluding the US). Other countries with fast growing emissions are South Korea, Iran, and Australia (which apart from the oil rich Persian Gulf states, now has the highest per capita emission rate in the world). On the other hand, annual per capita emissions of the EU-15 and the US are gradually decreasing over time. Emissions in Russia and Ukraine have decreased fastest since 1990 due to economic restructuring in these countries.
Energy statistics for fast growing economies are less accurate than those for the industrialized countries. For China's annual emissions in 2008, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency estimated an uncertainty range of about 10%.
The greenhouse gas footprint refers to the emissions resulting from the creation of products or services. It is more comprehensive than the commonly used carbon footprint, which measures only carbon dioxide, one of many greenhouse gases.
2015 was the first year to see both total global economic growth and a reduction of carbon emissions.
Top emitter countries
In 2019, China, the United States, India, the EU27+UK, Russia and Japan - the world’s largest CO2 emitters - together accounted for 51% of the population, 62.5% of global Gross Domestic Product, 62% of total global fossil fuel consumption and emitted 67% of total global fossil CO2. Emissions from these five countries and the EU28 show different changes in 2019 compared to 2018: the largest relative increase is found for China (+3.4%), followed by India (+1.6%). On the contrary, the EU27+UK (-3.8%), the United States (-2.6%), Japan (-2.1%) and Russia (-0.8%) reduced their fossil CO2 emissions.
One way of attributing greenhouse gas emissions is to measure the embedded emissions (also referred to as "embodied emissions") of goods that are being consumed. Emissions are usually measured according to production, rather than consumption. For example, in the main international treaty on climate change (the UNFCCC), countries report on emissions produced within their borders, e.g., the emissions produced from burning fossil fuels.:179:1 Under a production-based accounting of emissions, embedded emissions on imported goods are attributed to the exporting, rather than the importing, country. Under a consumption-based accounting of emissions, embedded emissions on imported goods are attributed to the importing country, rather than the exporting, country.
Davis and Caldeira (2010):4 found that a substantial proportion of CO
2 emissions are traded internationally. The net effect of trade was to export emissions from China and other emerging markets to consumers in the US, Japan, and Western Europe. Based on annual emissions data from the year 2004, and on a per-capita consumption basis, the top-5 emitting countries were found to be (in tCO
2 per person, per year): Luxembourg (34.7), the US (22.0), Singapore (20.2), Australia (16.7), and Canada (16.6).:5 [needs update]Carbon Trust research revealed that approximately 25% of all CO
2 emissions from human activities 'flow' (i.e., are imported or exported) from one country to another. Major developed economies were found to be typically net importers of embodied carbon emissions—with UK consumption emissions 34% higher than production emissions, and Germany (29%), Japan (19%) and the US (13%) also significant net importers of embodied emissions.[needs update]
Effect of policy
This section needs to be updated.(December 2019)
Governments have taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. Assessments of policy effectiveness have included work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, and United Nations Environment Programme. Policies implemented by governments have included national and regional targets to reduce emissions, promoting energy efficiency, and support for a renewable energy transition such as Solar energy as an effective use of renewable energy because solar uses energy from the sun and does not release pollutants into the air.
Countries and regions listed in Annex I of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (i.e., the OECD and former planned economies of the Soviet Union) are required to submit periodic assessments to the UNFCCC of actions they are taking to address climate change.:3 Analysis by the UNFCCC (2011):8 suggested that policies and measures undertaken by Annex I Parties may have produced emission savings of 1.5 thousand Tg CO
2-eq in the year 2010, with most savings made in the energy sector. The projected emissions saving of 1.5 thousand Tg CO
2-eq is measured against a hypothetical "baseline" of Annex I emissions, i.e., projected Annex I emissions in the absence of policies and measures. The total projected Annex I saving of 1.5 thousand CO
2-eq does not include emissions savings in seven of the Annex I Parties.:8
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant reduction in CO
2 emissions globally.
This section needs to be updated.(December 2019)
A wide range of projections of future emissions have been produced. Unless energy policies changed substantially, the world will continue to depend on fossil fuels until 2025–2030. Projections suggest that more than 80% of the world's energy will come from fossil fuels. This conclusion was based on "much evidence" and "high agreement" in the literature. Projected annual energy-related CO
2 emissions in 2030 were 40–110% higher than in 2000, with two-thirds of the increase originating in developing countries. Projected annual per capita emissions in developed country regions remained substantially lower (2.8–5.1 tonnes CO
2) than those in developed country regions (9.6–15.1 tonnes CO
2). Projections consistently showed increase in annual world emissions of "Kyoto" gases, measured in CO
2-equivalent) of 25–90% by 2030, compared to 2000.
- Attribution of recent climate change
- Carbon credit
- Carbon emissions reporting
- Carbon offset
- Carbon tax
- Emission standard
- List of countries by electricity production from renewable sources
- Low-carbon economy
- Paris Agreement
- World energy consumption
- Zero-emissions vehicle
- Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2
- Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center
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