At Postconsumers, we would admit that sometimes we can be a little hard on the United States as we rail against the large carbon footprint that it leaves on the planet. While the U.S. certainly leaves behind a massive carbon footprint (bigger than any other country’s), other countries are quickly industrializing and leaving their own brand of damage on the planet. It wasn’t that long ago that the news was about smoke and smog so thick in Beijing that you couldn’t even breathe. When you’re looking at who’s responsible for the human element of climate change and global warming, it’s important to look at the entire picture. So what countries have the biggest carbon footprint?

Currency and Type of Data

The first thing to keep in mind when looking at the data and statistics below is that data changes constantly and it takes time for the most current data to be accumulated. In fact, as of this article, the 2012 statistics haven’t been released yet. We’ll be looking for them to post an update, but in the meantime you can reasonably assume that there won’t be an epic shift in consumption from 2011 to 2012.

The second thing to keep in mind is that there are two ways to look at who’s creating the biggest carbon footprint. The first way, which is more straightforward, is to look at what countries create the biggest carbon emissions. The second way is to look at a ratio of what a nation produces versus what it consumes. In both cases, you may find yourself surprised by who’s actually doing significant amounts of damage and which countries need to make some lifestyle changes especially based on emissions per capita.

Countries with the Largest Carbon Footprint by Carbon Dioxide Emissions

There’s a great Wikipedia page that’s frequently updated with the most recent data available on CO2 emissions globally. We’re using the 2011 data in the table below. While, not surprisingly, China generates more CO2 emissions than any other country, when you look at the data of CO2 emissions per capita, nobody touches the United States. What’s most surprising here is that, while we often think of Canada as an environmentally-friendly country, they’re in the top ten in terms of overall emissions and they’re just a hop skip and jump behind the United States in emissions per capita.


CO2 emissions

Emission per Capita

 World 33,376,327 4.9
China 9,700,000 7.2
United States 5,420,000 17.3
India 1,970,000 1.6
Russia 1,830,000 12.8
Japan 1,240,000 9.8
International transport 1,040,000
Germany 810,000 9.9
South Korea 610,000 12.6
Canada 560,000 16.2



Countries with the Largest Carbon Footprint by Production Versus Consumption

Looking at the raw number of emissions is important, but because smaller countries don’t, by nature, produce the same raw, huge emissions numbers as larger ones, it isn’t necessarily reflective of who’s got the biggest overall consumption problems. We found the following list on National Geographic, and it’s quite telling.

Qatar: Qatar’s carbon emissions per capita are the highest in the world and three times as high as the United States.

Kuwait: According to the Global Footprint Network, the average Kuwaiti uses 22 times more resources than the country provides per person.

United Arab Emirates: Dubai, a city with 1.5 million people, the world’s largest shopping mall, and an indoor ski resort, currently gets all its energy needs from the burning of natural gas, which is why it ranks third on Global Footprint’s list.

Denmark: Because so much meat is eaten per capita in Denmark, the country must import a large amount of grain—so much that it would take up 215,000 square feet (2 hectares) of land per person, or 2.5 times more land than the country has.

United States: If everyone lived like the average American, the Earth’s annual production of resources would be depleted by the end of March, the Global Footprint Network’s report said.

Belgium: Belgium’s biocapacity of cropland is extremely low, so much of its food must be imported. This begins to explain Belgium’s high ranking on Global Footprint’s list.

Australia: Australians emit 28.1 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person, one of the highest per-capita rates in the world.

Canada: Canada’s cities are energy hogs. The country has the seventh highest rate of carbon dioxide emissions per capita.

The Netherlands: The small country, with its high population density and relatively little land area for crops and pasture, consumes six times more resources (energy, food, and more) than it is able to produce, and about three times more than the Earth overall is able to sustain.

Ireland: Agriculture is the largest source of emissions, but emissions from vehicles have more than doubled since 1998.

Carbon footprints, national cultures and sustainable realities are, of course, a more complex issue than simply looking at lists and pointing fingers. However, it’s often surprising to see which countries are over-or under-performing. The solution? We all begin to make small changes. What small changes can you make in your daily life to help chip away at your country’s carbon footprint?

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Photo: Qabluna via Flickr