Summary/Snapshot: Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States (Past, Present & Future)

Right now, China followed by the US emit the most greenhouse gases annually of all countries in the world.

The US is also the current leader in cumulative emissions over history. 

We’ve put together a brief summary/snapshot of how each country sits in the global picture, and on a national scale.

This is our United States GHG Emission Summary Guide.


Summary – Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States

The US currently leads the world in cumulative CO2 emissions throughout history (emissions over all time), with China in second

The US sits behind China for annual CO2 emissions (at around half)

The US has one of the leading per capita CO2 emissions in the world in terms of tonnes per person per year

Carbon dioxide (81% of total) is by far the most common greenhouse gas emitted in the US

Oil, followed by gas and coal are the top emitting fuel sources in the US

Transport, electricity production, and industry are the leading greenhouse gas emitting sectors in the US (agriculture only comes in at 9% of total)

CO2 emissions looked to have peaked in the US at around 2005 to 2007, and were decreasing until around 2016

Forecasts for the US’s greenhouse gas emissions in the future show a slight increase (based on the same activity as now) from 2016 to 2050. Cleaner energy production would change that

The US is moving away from using coal based on current trends. Starting in 2022, forecasts say practically all additional electricity generation capacity would come either from natural gas or wind and solar.


*Note that future forecasts for what a country may do and their future emissions are a guide only and in reality are very hard to get accurate due to the number of variables at play. Some variables can also have a much larger impact than others – so one variable can change forecasts a lot.


Cumulative C02 Emissions

The countries that lead in terms of total sum of C02 emissions since 1751 and up to 2014, measured in millions of tonnes, are:

  • United States – 376,212.65 (Mt)
  • China – 174,874.89 (Mt)
  • Germany – 86,536.42 (Mt)
  • United Kingdom – 75,237.98 (Mt)
  • India – 41,784.24 (Mt)



Annual C02 Emissions

The countries that lead in terms of total sum of C02 emissions per year in 2016, measured in millions of tonnes, are:

  • China – 10,283.51 (Mt)
  • US – 5,565.49 (Mt)
  • EU-28 – a mix of european countries (Germany features high on the list)
  • India – 2,236.55 (Mt)
  • Russia – 1,669.6 (Mt)
  • Japan – 1266.6 (Mt)



In 2014, the global contribution to CO2 emissions from different countries and regions was:

  • China – 30%
  • Other – 30%
  • United States – 15%
  • EU-28 – 9%
  • India – 7%
  • Russia – 5%
  • Japan – 4%



You can view a year by year CO2 emission graph from 1960 to 2014 in million tons at


Per Capita CO2 Emissions

The countries with the highest per capita C02 emissions (C02 emissions per person in the population), measured in tonnes per person per year, in 2016, are:

  • Qatar – 47.83 (tonnes per person per year)
  • Trinidad & Tobago – 30.06
  • Kuwait – 25.81
  • United Arab Emirates – 25.79
  • Bahrain – 24.51
  • Brunei – 23.7
  • Saudi Arabia – 19.66
  • New Caledonia – 18.2
  • Australia – 16.5
  • Luxembourg – 16.47
  • United States –  16.44 



The United States is one of the top per capita emitting countries in the world.


Emissions By Type Of Greenhouse Gas

In 2016, greenhouse gas emissions by type of gas in the US was:

  • Carbon Dioxide – 81%
  • Methane – 10%
  • Nitrous Oxide – 6%
  • Fluorinated Gases – 3%



Greenhouse Gas Emissions By Sector/Industry

In 2010, greenhouse gas emissions breakdown by industry in the US was:

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


You can read more about these sectors and industries and what they include in this guide.


Current Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trend In The United States

This EPA resource shows you the US Greenhouse Gas Emissions both by Gas, and by Sector – from 1990 to 2016.

Page 12 of the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trends and Projections Report also shows CO2 Emissions from 1990 to 2016 –

Both show:

  • a peak in CO2 Emissions around 2005 to 2007,
  • with CO2 emissions on the decrease since then until 2016.

On the EPA graph, emissions in the Transportation and Electricity Generation sectors have both slightly decreased in the same time.

–, and


Future Forecast For Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The United States

Precise forecasts for greenhouse gas emissions, and particularly carbon dioxide emissions, are hard to make due to factors such as economic activity, price of fossil fuels, what happens in the electricity and transport industries, government policy developments, whether there are improvements in energy efficiency + more.

What energy sources are used and in what %’s can have a big impact.

So, only estimated forecasts can be made.


The U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Trends and Projections Report shows two estimated forecasts for CO2 Emissions from U.S. Electricity Generation from 2016 to 2050:

  • … a baseline forecast with the same activity as what is in place now would see CO2 emission levels slightly increase from 2016 to 2050
  • … a scenario in which a clean power plan is implemented would see C02 emission levels decrease by up to 32% below 2005 levels (and decrease from 2016 levels)



According to (summarising the EIA’s 2018 Annual Energy Outlook publication/report), a forecast of the US’s greenhouse gas emissions future might include:

  • The US is looking unlikely to achieve a goal of bringing net emissions to zero in the second half of this century
  • Instead, the U.S. would almost single-handedly exhaust the whole world’s carbon budget by midcentury (2050)
  • The US is moving away from using coal. Starting in 2022, forecasts say practically all additional electricity generation capacity would come either from natural gas or wind and solar.
  • Carbon-free wind and solar power account for 64 percent of the total electric generation growth through 2050.
  • Overall, projections have emissions staying flat for several decades. Those emissions would build up, adding more than 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year to the atmosphere for the next three decades or more.
  • At the baseline rate of emissions described in this new report, the U.S. carbon footprint from this year to 2050 would add up to 179 billion tons—very close to the whole planet’s budget under those estimates
  • NOTE: reports like this have limitations. They are best thought of as case studies rather than as formal forecasts – but can be useful as a general guide of what might happen in different scenarios











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