Visualizing CO₂ Emissions Since 1900
Leaders from all over the world are currently gathering at the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 27) in Egypt to discuss climate action, and to negotiate the commitments being made by countries to the global climate agenda.
This visualization based on data from the Global Carbon Project shows the changes in global fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from 1900 to 2020, putting the challenge of fighting climate change into perspective.
Cumulative CO₂ Emissions vs. Rate of Change
Global climate change is primarily caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas release large amounts of CO₂ when burned or used in industrial processes.
Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), emissions were very low. However, with the increased use of fossil fuels to power machines, emissions rose to 6 billion tonnes of CO₂ per year globally by 1950. The amount had almost quadrupled by 1990, reaching a rate of over 22 billion tonnes per year.
Currently, the world emits over 34 billion tonnes of CO₂ each year. Since 1751, the world has emitted over 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO₂ cumulatively.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, average global growth in fossil CO₂ emissions had slowed to 0.9% annually during the 2010s, reaching 36.7 gigatons of CO₂ added to the atmosphere in 2019.
However, in 2020, global lockdowns led to the biggest decrease in CO₂ emissions ever seen in absolute terms. Global fossil CO₂ emissions decreased by 5.2% to 34.8 gigatons, mainly due to halts in aviation, surface transport, power generation, and manufacturing during the pandemic.
Since then, emissions have approached pre-pandemic levels, reaching 36.2 gigatons added to the atmosphere in 2021.
Biggest Emitters, by Country
Asia, led by China, is the largest emitter, with the continent accounting for more than half of global emissions.
|Rank||Country||2020 CO₂ Emissions
(Millions of metric tons)
|#2||🇺🇸 United States||4,713|
|#8||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||626|
|#9||🇰🇷 South Korea||598|
|#13||🇿🇦 South Africa||452|
CO₂ emissions from developing economies already account for more than two-thirds of global emissions, while emissions from advanced economies are in a structural decline.
Coal Power Generation Set for Record Increase
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, more than 130 countries have now set or are considering a target of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050.
Much of the slowdown in emissions growth in the 2010s was attributable to the substitution of coal—the fuel that contributes most to planet-warming emissions—with gas and renewables. In addition, during the previous COP26 held in Glasgow, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.
Despite that, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally and is set for a new record in 2022 as consumption surged in Europe to replace shortfalls in hydro, nuclear, and Russian natural gas.
As leaders meet in Egypt for the world’s largest gathering on climate action, it will be up to them to come up with a plan for making their environmental aspirations a reality.
What Electricity Sources Power the World?
Coal still leads the charge when it comes to electricity, representing 35% of global power generation.
What Powered the World in 2022?
In 2022, 29,165.2 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity was generated around the world, an increase of 2.3% from the previous year.
In this visualization, we look at data from the latest Statistical Review of World Energy, and ask what powered the world in 2022.
Coal is Still King
Coal still leads the charge when it comes to electricity, representing 35.4% of global power generation in 2022, followed by natural gas at 22.7%, and hydroelectric at 14.9%.
Over three-quarters of the world’s total coal-generated electricity is consumed in just three countries. China is the top user of coal, making up 53.3% of global coal demand, followed by India at 13.6%, and the U.S. at 8.9%.
Burning coal—for electricity, as well as metallurgy and cement production—is the world’s single largest source of CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, its use in electricity generation has actually grown 91.2% since 1997, the year when the first global climate agreement was signed in Kyoto, Japan.
Renewables on the Rise
However, even as non-renewables enjoy their time in the sun, their days could be numbered.
In 2022, renewables, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, represented 14.4% of total electricity generation with an extraordinary annual growth rate of 14.7%, driven by big gains in solar and wind. Non-renewables, by contrast, only managed an anemic 0.4%.
The authors of the Statistical Review do not include hydroelectric in their renewable calculations, even though many others, including the International Energy Agency, consider it a “well-established renewable power technology.”
With hydroelectric moved into the renewable column, together they accounted for over 29.3% of all electricity generated in 2022, with an annual growth rate of 7.4%.
France’s Nuclear Horrible Year
Another big mover in this year’s report was nuclear energy.
In addition to disruptions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, shutdowns in France’s nuclear fleet to address corrosion found in the safety injection systems of four reactors led to a 4% drop in global use, year-over-year.
The amount of electricity generated by nuclear energy in that country dropped 22% to 294.7 TWh in 2022. As a result, France went from being the world’s biggest exporter of electricity, to a net importer.
Powering the Future
Turning mechanical energy into electrical energy is a relatively straightforward process. Modern power plants are engineering marvels, to be sure, but they still work on the same principle as the very first generator invented by Michael Faraday in 1831.
But how you get the mechanical energy is where things get complicated: coal powered the first industrial revolution, but heated the planet in the process; wind is free and clean, but is unreliable; and nuclear fission reliably generates emission-free electricity, but also creates radioactive waste.
With temperature records being set around the world in the summer, resolving these tensions isn’t just academic and next year’s report could be a crucial test of the world’s commitment to a clean energy future.
How Mine Permitting Delays Impact the Transition to a Green Economy
Currently, the U.S. has a backlog of more than 280 mining projects awaiting permits.
Mine Permitting Delays and the Transition to a Green Economy
Minerals are essential components in many of our daily-use products, such as cell phones, laptops, and cars.
In fact, every American uses nearly 40,000 pounds of newly mined materials each year.
In the United States, however, the current permitting process makes it difficult for businesses to invest in the extraction and processing of minerals, such as copper.
This graphic by Northern Dynasty explores the untapped potential of mineral resources in America.
Copper, a Critical Material
In 2023 the U.S. Department of Energy officially added copper to its critical materials list, following the examples of the European Union, Japan, India, Canada, and China.
Copper is a highly efficient conductor of electricity and is considered vital for clean energy technologies such as solar, wind energy, and electric vehicles.
Green energy-related copper demand is expected to increase by nearly 600% by 2030. In this scenario, the copper market could see an annual deficit of up to about 1.5 million tonnes by 2035.
Despite having more than 53 million tons of copper reserves, the U.S. imports 45% of its copper from other countries.
This is the highest level of import reliance in over 30 years. One of the biggest reasons for this is the country’s mine permitting process.
A Rigorous Mine Permitting Process
Mines are large-scale projects that demand extensive research and policies. As a result, mining projects can take 16 years, or more, to start production.
Currently, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management—which regulates land use in the country—has a permitting backlog of more than 280 mining projects.
In addition, environmental activists have adopted a “not in my backyard” stance towards domestic mining. As a result, companies have often had to resort to litigation to make any progress in the permitting process.
“Activists have weaponized the government bodies that are essential to the safe and responsible development of domestic mines,” says Michael Westerlund, VP Investor Relations at Northern Dynasty Minerals.
The company owns the largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world, named Pebble, in Alaska. Pebble and other five major copper projects totaling over 11 billion tonnes in copper resources have been delayed because of the Federal permitting process.
The Largest Undeveloped Copper Deposit in the World
The Pebble Project has been through a roller coaster of regulatory activity for the past 15 years.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the depositing of mining waste near the mining project in Alaska, citing potential harm to the local sockeye salmon industry.
However, the veto directly contradicts findings from the Federal government that concluded that mining and fishing could coexist in the region.
“Alaska does resource development better than any other place on the planet, and our opportunities to show the world a better way to extract our resources should not be unfairly preempted by the Federal Government”
–Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy
Projects like Pebble can provide significant economic benefits and support the U.S. transition to a greener future. With the current regulatory uncertainty for U.S. developers, where the much-needed supply of copper will come from is unknown.
Click here to learn more about Pebble.
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