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The dirty dozen

The top 12 greenhouse gas emitting countries in the world


United States

The world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, though some predict it will be overtaken by China within a decade.

  • Most recent rates: 7,147 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalents a year (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 28 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 23.4 tonnes or 5.85 times the world average
  • Per capita rank: Fourth

Kyoto targets: The U.S. backed away from signing the Kyoto Protocol at the last minute, but if it were bound by the agreement, as Canada is, it would have to reduce its annual output to 5701.2 million tonnes or by approximately 25 per cent.

Emission rates have been increasing at approximately one per cent a year, which is less than half of GDP.

Most recent plans: The White House recently escalated plans to have clean coal technology in place within a decade, though whether that will apply to the 150 or so coal-fired power plants currently on the drawing board remains to be seen.

Congress is considering a batch of bipartisan GHG cap and trade proposals, and California announced plans to cut is emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 per cent below those levels by 2050.



The world's second largest GHG emitter, China is a signatory to the Kyoto accord, but it and other developing countries were given a pass on the 2012 deadlines while they dealt with other pressing needs. Their obligations kick in at that point.

  • Most recent rates: 3,760 million tonnes (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 15 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 2.9 tonnes or 72 per cent of the world average
  • Per capita rank: Difficult to compute, wouldn't make the top 40

Most recent plans: Recent figures from China's National Bureau of Statistics show that the country's consumption of fossil fuels, primarily coal for power and gasoline for cars, has increased by over nine per cent in each of 2005 and 2006, which is a much higher percentage than the rest of the world.

The Chinese government says it intends to abide fully by its international obligations on the climate change front. To get started, it has set a target to reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent per unit GDP over the next five years. It is also planning to close or small power generating units with a total annual capacity of 50 million kilowatts in four years.



  • Most recent rates: 1,201 million tonnes of CO2 (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 4.8 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 9.4 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: 18th
  • Kyoto targets: 1,171.93 million tonnes

Most recent plans: Japan saw a slight, almost one per cent shrinkage in energy use and GHG emissions in 2005. But it is still above its Kyoto targets, and analysts do not expect the country to meet them without buying offsetting credits from other countries.



The fourth, or maybe fifth, largest GHG emitter, depending on whether India or Canada has leaped ahead in recent months, Germany has seen its emissions steadily decline since 1990. That result largely stems from the end of the Cold War and its absorption of East Germany with its outdated industries, which were gradually shut down.

  • Most recent rates: 854 million tonnes
  • Percentage of world total: 3.4 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 10.4 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: 16th (2003)
  • Kyoto targets: 965.9 million tonnes

Most recent plans: Germany has already reached its Kyoto targets, at least according to the International Energy Agency's numbers. It has been a driving force in the European Union's proposal to cut GHG even further than the Kyoto Protocol, to 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.

Kyoto would have its 35 signatories reduce their GHG emissions to an average of just under six per cent of 1990 levels by 2012.



  • Most recent rates: 1,050 million tonnes (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 4.2 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: one tonne
  • Per capita rank: Difficult to calculate, not in the top 40
  • Kyoto targets: Obligations don't kick in until 2012 and are still to be negotiated

Most recent plans: India has a thriving nuclear energy industry but has also been relying on coal more in recent years to sustain its economic growth. The Indian government's position is that the developed world has a greater obligation to curb global warming because it has been benefiting from industrialization longer.



The environment has recently become the most important issue in Canadian politics, according to some polls. But because of urban growth and Alberta's booming energy industry, the country is way above its Kyoto targets, more than any other industrialized country with the possible exception of Spain.

  • Most recent rates: 758 million tonnes (2004)
  • Percentage of world total: three per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 23.5 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: Third
  • Kyoto targets: 563 million tonnes, which would require a 34.6 per cent cut from current levels

Most recent plans: The opposition parties passed a motion in Parliament to try to force the Stephen Harper government to try to abide by the Kyoto commitment, but the government says that would be too disruptive. Its own plan, put forward in a bill earlier this year but not passed, would have Canada cut GHG emission rates by 50 per cent of 2003 levels (which were 740 million tonnes) by 2050.



A fervent convert to the cause, Britain is now putting forward the world's most ambitious plan to curb global warming.

  • Most recent rates: 540 million tonnes (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 2.2 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 9.1 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: Unclear, somewhere around 25th
  • Kyoto targets: Final figures for 2005, released in January 2007, showed Britain was then already under its Kyoto target and had reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 15.3 per cent of the 1990 levels. It says it is on its way to reduce these emissions by up to 32 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020.

Most recent plans: The Tony Blair government announced a new target of 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, and is enacting a law that will impose penalties on different segments of society if these goals aren't met.



  • Most recent rates: 569.76 million tonnes (2003)
  • Percentage of world total: 2.3 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 9.9 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: 21
  • Kyoto targets: Italy was 9.9 per cent above its Kyoto target in 2003

Most recent plans: Italy is one of seven European Union countries, along with Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal, that are on track to miss their respective Kyoto targets, according to a report in early 2007. At the same time, it took the lead, along with Germany and Britain, in the recent EU decision to increase the GHG targets to 20 per cent of 1990 rates by 2020.



One of the world's biggest users of nuclear energy, France has been pushing the nuclear industry as a way to curb global warming.

  • Most recent rates: 390 million tonnes (2005)
  • Percentage of world total: 1.56 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 6.3 tonnes
  • Per capita rank: 24 in 2003
  • Kyoto targets: Was 4.3 per cent above its target, using 2003 data

Most recent plans: France's participation tipped the scale in favour of the EU's tough new GHG standards. Its support came at the price of including nuclear energy as one of the renewable energy sources to which Europe could turn.


The Netherlands

One of the low-lying countries that would certainly be affected by global warming and rise in sea levels, the Netherlands has been a strong supporter of Kyoto. But it is also a country trying to buy its way to international co-operation by buying credits in clean energy projects elsewhere.

  • Most recent rates: 214.82 million tonnes (2003)
  • Percentage of world total: 0.85 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 13.3 or 3.325 times the international average
  • Per capita rank: 12
  • Kyoto targets: The Netherlands was still running nine per cent above its Kyoto target as of 2003 data, prepared for the so-called Montreal round on climate change.
  • Most recent plans: The Dutch government was a backer of the EU plan to cut emissions further by 2020. It was also the first to buy environmental credits from China, by investing in a wind farm there.


The only other major industrialized country, after the U.S., not to sign the Kyoto accord, Australia has become a recent convert to energy conservation and climate change mitigation after suffering through one of its worst multi-year droughts in history.

  • Most recent rates: 564.7 million tonnes (2004), carbon emissions have been rising steadily since the mid-1990s
  • Percentage of world total: 2.3 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 26.1 tonnes (2003) or 6.5 times the international average
  • Per capita rank: First
  • Kyoto targets: None

Most recent plans: The central government has recently committed over $2 billion AU for renewable energy initiatives, and has taken over some transit and water responsibilities in certain regions. Its goal is to limit GHG emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 levels by 2012 at the latest.



With little of the right infrastructure or money to invest in alternate energy, Spain's GHG emissions rose 49 per cent from 1990 to 2004, the largest increase of any country that signed the Kyoto accord. It is among seven EU nations not expected to meet its Kyoto requirements, which are not nearly as onerous as some.

  • Most recent rates: 402.29 million tonnes
  • Percentage of world total: 1.61 per cent
  • Per capita amounts: 9.97 tonnes or 2.44 times the international average
  • Per capita rank: 22
  • Kyoto targets: Spain is committed only to reducing its GHG to 15 per cent above 1990 levels by 2012. Unofficial estimates for 2005 put the number for that year at 53 per cent above this target.

Most recent plans: The government said emission growth stabilized in 2006, and it is working hard to introduce a more stringent building code and solar energy options. Its semi-official goal is to cut its emissions to 37 per cent above 1990 levels by 2008-12, and then buy carbon credits from clean energy projects elsewhere.

Sources: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; the UN-sponsored Global Virtual University; the International Energy Agency; The U.S. Energy Information Administration; news reports.