Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2017

A companion piece to an earlier post:

India – The Next Greenhouse Gas Emissions Giant

There is so much written in the media about the efforts of the wealthier countries in the world like Canada to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that few ever think about the other side of the story, which concerns the fact that global emissions are growing. So, I thought I would take a look at the facts, that is, the data on emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent as compiled by British Petroleum for its 2017 Review of World Energy. The data cover the period 2006 to 2015.

The facts don’t lie. They are just the facts.

First, world emissions grew from 2006 to 2015 by 2.6 gigatonnes (Gt), or 1.6% per year, to reach 33.3 Gt in 2015.

The world average hides significant differences among regions and countries. In Europe and Eurasia (i.e. including the Russian Federation and some other large northern Asia countries), emissions actually declined over the period by an annual average of -1.0 %, reaching 6.2 Gt by 2015. North America’s emissions also declined by an annual average of 1.0 % to reach 6.5 Gt by 2015. In every other region, emissions rose. In Africa, emissions rose by an average of 2.6% per year to 1.2 Gt by 2015. In South and Central America, emissions increased by 3.1 % per year to reach 1.4 Gt by 2015. In the Asia Pacific area, emissions increased by 3.6% per year to reach 15.9 Gt. Finally, in the Middle East, emissions rose the fastest, at the rate of 4.2% per year to reach 2.1 Gt by 2015. In short, during a period marked by the most serious recession since the Great Depression, emissions declined in most of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) but rose in the newly industrializing and poorer countries.

Historically, the United States was the largest GHG emitter, followed by Russia. The rapid expansion of China’s economy since 1990 has reversed roles. China surpassed the United States as the largest emitter in 2004 and by 2015 produced 9165 megatonnes (Mt), more than two thirds higher than the United States. China’s emissions grew at the average annual rate of 4.2% from 2005 to 2016.

China, however, is just the head of the pack. There are several other countries with large and growing emissions, as indicated in the following table.

Countries with High and Growing GHG Emissions


Growth Rate per year 2005-2015

2015 Emissions (Mt)

6.0 %


South Korea

2.3 %



3.5 %


Saudi Arabia

5.2 %



3.7 %



4.0 %


South Africa

0.7 %



4.1 %


There are a number of other countries, mainly in Asia, that have not yet reached the “heavyweight” class of emitters but which have very fast emissions growth rates. The following table provides some examples:

Countries with Fast Growing Emissions


Growth Rate per year 2005-2015

2015 Emissions (Mt)

10.3 %



7.3 %



 6.8 %



5.8 %



5.6 %



5.4 %



 5.3 %


United Arab Emirates

5.2 %


If the world experiences a period of prolonged economic recovery (i.e. a good thing), it is likely that the pace of emissions growth will accelerate in several of the countries listed here. It appears that the potential for significant emissions reduction is related to the stage of economic development that a country is in. Those that are in a post-industrial stage in which the service and knowledge industries dominate and in which people can afford to spend on environmental initiatives appear to have a higher likelihood of reducing emissions. Those that are still based on largely agrarian or pre-industrial industries continue to grow both their economies and emissions at slow rates. Those in or entering the stage of rapid industrialization seem likely to continue their fast emissions growth.

It appears highly likely that India will continue the rapid expansion of its economy and increase its emissions, probably surpassing the United States in emissions within the next decade. Southeast Asia and the countries of the Middle East may not be long behind.