Industries/Sectors That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases & Carbon Dioxide

Some industries/sectors emit more greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide than others.

It’s important to look at emissions from industries on a global level, but also on a country specific level (as emission shares from the different sectors can change)

In this guide, we look at emission shares from different sectors globally, but also from different sectors on a country specific level – for major countries like China and the US.


Summary – Industries/Sectors That Emit The Most Greenhouse Gases

Globally, the economic sectors that lead to the highest total greenhouse gas emission shares are heat and energy production, and agriculture, forestry & other land use. Along with industry and transport – these 4 economic sectors make up around 84% of total GHG emissions according to some emission breakdowns. Commercial and residential is another one of the leading emitting industries

[Something that is important to note though is that emissions can be both direct and indirect. Sectors like agriculture, industrial activity, residential and commercial, and even transport when considering electric cars, all have their own direct emissions, but also indirectly use electricity from power generation, which has an indirect emission footprint]

Globally, the energy sector leads CO2 emissions, followed by the transport sector

Globally, the agriculture sector leads methane emissions, followed by the energy sector

Globally, agriculture leads nitrous oxide emissions by a significant margin

Globally, total greenhouse gas emissions are lead by the energy sector by a large margin (followed by land use sources, transport, and agriculture). Overall, electricity and heat production, agriculture (and forestry and other land uses), industry, transportation, other energy and buildings are the top emitting sectors

On a country level …

Greenhouse gas emissions profiles differ between countries, and also on a global level

For example, if you compare which sectors different greenhouse gases come from in different countries, China has a different profile/breakdown than the US for example (some of this has to do with what stage each country’s economy is at, and specific factors such as GHGs coming from rice cultivation in China vs livestock in the US)

Read more about the US and their greenhouse gas emissions profile in this guide

Read more about China and their greenhouse gas emissions profiel in this guide 

China is the current leader in total annual CO2 emissions

In China, Construction-related activities are among the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions in China – particularly the production of cement and steel

In China, Agriculture is the main sector responsible for Methane emissions – especially from rice crops/rice cultivation

In China, Agriculture and the energy sector are the main industries responsible for nitrous oxide emissions

The US is the second leading annual GHG emitter in the world, and the leading cumulative emitter

In the US, the transportation, electricity and industry sectors lead total greenhouse gases by a significant margin (agriculture only comes in at 9% of total)

Also in the US, the transport sector leads in CO2 intensity (CO2 emissions per energy unit produced)

In the US, for agriculture, current numbers indicate fertilizer is responsible for 50% of emissions, livestock around 33%, and manure about 15%

On a city level …

Developed cities and developing cities, as well as producer vs consumer cities might have different emission profiles in terms of the activities and sectors that their emissions come from

What we might see is a trend of developing cities having more of their emissions come from industrial activity, and developed cities having more of their emissions come from the energy used in buildings

Usually in a city, their emission total or emission rate is directly in step with the source of energy they use i.e. coal, another fossil fuel, or a cleaner energy source

So, emission profiles of countries and cities can change over time as the economy and local conditions change


*Note that emissions can be measured in different ways, such as total emissions, rate of emissions, share of emissions, per capita emissions, emissions per kWh produced, emissions per per British thermal unit (Btu), carbon intensity of a specific activity, and so on.


Description Of The Different Sectors/Industries 

The different major emitting sectors and a description of each one might include:

Energy & Electricity Generation – the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity

Transport – the movement of people and goods by cars, trucks, trains, ships, airplanes, and other vehicles. It involves road travel, but also air, rail, water, and so on. It can involve private vehicles, public vehicles, freight and delivery vehicles, and more.

Industrial – the production of the goods and raw materials we use everyday

Commercial and Residential – homes and commercial businesses. Excludes agricultural and industrial activities

Agriculture – crop production, livestock production, farms and ranches.

Land Use & Forestry – the management of land, the conversion in use of land, and forests and vegetation.

Other Sectors – there are also other sectors to consider.


The resource in the resources list also has an explanation of the different sectors.


United States

A further description of what each sector includes in the US – the transportation, electricity, industry, commercial and residential, agriculture, and land use and forestry – can be found in this resource


Global CO2 Emissions By Sector/Industry

In 2010, Global carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, measured in gigagrams of CO₂ per year, by sector, were:

  • Total – 34.42 million
  • Energy – 20.33 million
  • Transport – 5.53 million
  • Residential & Commercial – 3.38 million
  • Agriculture, Land Use & Forestry – 2.62 million
  • Industry – 2.48 million
  • Other Sources – 47,519 thousand
  • Waste – 32,506.6 thousand



Global Methane Emissions By Sector/Industry

In 2008, total global methane (CH₄) emissions by sector, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e) were:

  • Total – 5.98 million
  • Agriculture – 2.84 million
  • Energy – 2.58 million
  • Land Use – 293,021.69 thousand
  • Residential & Commercial – 258,670.43 thousand
  • Industry – 5,290.31 thousand
  • Other Sources – 3,162.6 thousand



Global Nitrous Oxide Emissions By Sector/Industry

In 2010, total global nitrous oxide (N₂O) emissions by sector, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents(CO₂e) were:

  • Total – 3.06 million
  • Agriculture – 2.21 million
  • Other Sources – 216,927.81 thousand
  • Energy – 175,856.12 thousand
  • Industry –  137,911.67 thousand
  • Waste – 119,087.49 thousand
  • Residential & Commercial – 91,159.3 thousand
  • Land Use – 83,443.4 thousand
  • Transport – 15,786.61 thousand
  • International Bunkers – 8,879.86 thousand
  • Forestry – 0



Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry

In 2010, the total global greenhouse gas emissions by sector globally, measured in gigagrams of carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO₂e), were:

  • Total – 50.58 million
  • Energy – 23.24 million
  • Land Use Sources – 5.54 million
  • Transport – 5.54 million
  • Agriculture – 5.08 million
  • Commercial & Residential – 3.74 million
  • Industry – 3.47 million
  • Waste – 1.45 million
  • Forestry – 1.18 million
  • International Bunkers – 1.08 million
  • Other Sources – 267,609.41 thousand



By Economic Sector (in 2014)

  • Electricity and Heat Production – 25%
  • Agriculture, Forestry & Other Land Use – 24%
  • Industry – 21%
  • Transportation – 14%
  • Other Energy – 10%
  • Buildings – 6%



Carbon Intensity Of Different Sectors

  • Historically, the industrial sector has had the lowest CO2 intensity, as measured by CO2 emissions per British thermal unit (Btu).
  • The transportation sector historically has had the highest CO2 intensity,



Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry In The United States (2016)

  • Transportation – 28%
  • Electricity – 28%
  • Industry – 22%
  • Commercial & Residential – 11%
  • Agriculture – 9%
  • Land Use & Forestry – offset of 11%



Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Activity In NSW, Australia, In 2015/16

  • stationary energy sources, such as coal-fired power stations (47 per cent)
  • transport (18 per cent)
  • coal mines (12 per cent)
  • agriculture (11 per cent)
  • land use (7 per cent)
  • land change (3 per cent)
  • waste (2 per cent)



Potential Solutions To Addressing Emissions & Climate Change Across The Various Sectors

We’ve included potential solutions across the various sectors in these guides:

You can also read this guide which generally outlines how we might approach climate change on levels higher and lower than the sector based level:







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