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15 November 2021

Which countries are the biggest carbon emitters in history?

China and India are far behind countries such as the US and UK for cumulative emissions.

By Nicu Calcea

The Cop26 conference ended on Saturday with an ambitious agreement between countries to halve global carbon emissions by 2030.

Since the 1850s, humans have emitted 2,500 billion tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2), according to analysis by Carbon Brief. To keep global warming under 1.5°C, we must keep future emissions below 500GtCO2.

The US is responsible for the largest share of cumulative carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution: 20.3 per cent of the global total. However, once population is accounted for, Canada is responsible for an even higher share of the emissions: some 1,751 tonnes of CO2 for each Canadian alive today.

Canada, the US and Estonia top the full list – the latter due to its oil shales, which account for 90 per cent of the country’s emissions. Australia, Trinidad and Tobago and Russia have also recorded high levels of cumulative CO2 emissions compared with their present populations.

Notably, China, India, Brazil and Indonesia do not feature. While these countries are some of the biggest emitters today, their large populations and lower historic emissions mean their per capita impact is much smaller.

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