Countries worldwide are grappling with the urgent need to find solutions to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions. The three largest emitters, China, the United States, and India, are responsible for over 50% of global carbon emissions. The burning of fossil fuels intensifies the greenhouse effect, leading to significant shifts in the Earth’s climate system and exacerbating natural disasters. As the UN climate summit, COP28, approaches, it is crucial to understand each country’s contribution to the global carbon footprint.
According to data from the Global Carbon Atlas, interpreted by Visual Capitalist, China, the US, and India accounted for 52% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2021. These countries not only emit the most carbon but also have the highest populations. China is the top carbon polluter, responsible for almost 31% of global emissions, while the US tops the rank for carbon emissions per capita with around 15 metric tons. China aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2060, India by 2070, and only the US’s target aligns with the Paris Agreement objective of reaching net zero by 2050.
China faces significant challenges in meeting its net zero targets, requiring up to $17 trillion in investments to transition to a low-carbon economy. The country’s focus on economic growth may result in its carbon footprint reaching an all-time high in 2023, with CO2 emissions increasing by 4% in the first quarter of this year. In contrast, the US has shown a commitment to decarbonization through increased investments in clean energy, with $213 billion invested in the sector in 2022. India aims to achieve net zero by 2070 and plans to focus on electric vehicles and nuclear capacity expansion.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that to reach the global net zero target, renewable energy capacity must be three times the current level by 2030. The IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap indicates that renewable capacity should reach 11,000 GW by the end of the decade. However, reports show that most countries are facing significant challenges in meeting their annual capacity targets. China is the only major emitter on track to achieve its 2030 renewables goal, exceeding its required capacity for new installations. The US and India are furthest from reaching their 2022 targets, adding only 46% and 57% of the required capacity, respectively. Other countries in Europe have made progress but still need to add more installations to meet their 2030 goals.
Together, China, the US, India, the EU, and the UK account for over 60% of the world’s total electricity consumption. This highlights their significant responsibility in decarbonizing the power sector. As the global community grapples with the escalating impacts of climate change, attention turns to these major carbon emitters. The challenge extends beyond emissions, with hurdles evident in meeting renewable energy goals by 2030. These major emitters play a critical role in the urgent shift toward greener and more sustainable practices.