Growth of 1.1% in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019

In 2019, the second warmest year on record, and a year with 2.8% global economic growth, a half per cent below the annual average since 2012, the increase in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continued at a rate of 1.1% per year, reaching 52.4 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2 eq), excluding land-use change. This was mainly due to a 0.9% increase in emissions of CO2 and a 1.3% increase in methane (CH4). With a share of about 73% CO2 and 19% methane, these emissions form the lion’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions

The other greenhouse gases included under the UN Climate Convention are nitrous oxide (N2O) (6% share) and fluorinated gases (F-gases, with a share of 3%), the emissions of which continued to grow by a respective 0.8% and 3.8%, in 2019. In 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions (excluding those from land-use change) are 59% higher than in 1990 and 44% higher than in 2000 (see Figure). Although this growth is half that in 2018, the 1.1% emissions growth in 2019 is a continuation of the average annual growth rate of 1.1% from 2012 to 2019.

These are the main conclusions from the 2020 report ‘Trends in global CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions’ by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. This is the most comprehensive report on global greenhouse gas emissions up to 2019, as it presents detailed data on emissions of all greenhouse gases, not only CO2.

Emission increases in 2019 in the three largest emitting countries and decreases in EU, US and Japan

Five countries and the European Union are the greatest emitters of greenhouse gas, together accounting for 62%, globally, with 27% in China, 13% in the United States, 8% in the European Union (EU-28), 7% in India, 5% in the Russian Federation and 3% in Japan. These countries and the EU-28 also have the highest CO2 emission levels.

In 2019, three of them showed decreases in greenhouse gas emissions, namely the European Union (140 MtCO2 eq or -3.0%), the United States (110 MtCO2 eq or -1.7%) and Japan (20 MtCO2 eq or -1.6%). However, emissions increased in China (+420 MtCO2 eq or +3.1%), India (+50 MtCO2 eq or +1.4%) and in the Russian Federation (+20 MtCO2 eq or +0.9%).

The ranking of countries is quite different when using per-capita emissions. Except for India (2.7 tCO2 eq/cap), all main emitters have per capita emission levels that are significantly higher than those in the rest of the world and the world average. In this list, China ranks fourth (rather than first, as it does for absolute emissions). Although CO2 eq emissions per capita in the United States have been steadily decreasing since 2000, from 25.0 tCO2 eq/cap to about 20.0 tCO2 eq/cap by 2019, it is still in the highest position of the top 5 emitting countries, but is surpassed by three other G20 countries: Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia. The United States, the Russian Federation (17.4 tCO2 eq/cap), and Japan (10.7 tCO2 eq/cap) make up the top 3 GHG emitting countries, per capita, of the five main emitting countries and the European Union.

Global CO2 emissions continue to increase after larger increases in previous years

The relatively small increase of 0.9% in global CO2 emissions (in 2018: 2.4%) was due an 0.6% decline in coal consumption and a much lower 2.0% growth in natural gas consumption, after an erratically large increase of gas consumption of 5.0% in 2018. In 2019, global consumption of oil products continued to increase by a modest 0.8%. The decline in global coal consumption was mainly due to large decreases in the United States (15%) and the European Union (18%) and increases in renewable power generation, in particular, wind and solar power, and due to power plants switching from coal to natural gas.

In 2019, global CO2 emissions increased by an estimated 350 MtCO2 or 0.9% to a total of 38.0 GtCO2, to which notably China contributed most with an increase of 3.4% (about 380 MtCO2). Other large absolute increases of about 50 MtCO2 were seen in both Vietnam +18.6%, Indonesia +8.0% and India +6.8%.

The relatively small increase in CO2 emissions was aided, in 2019, by larger global increases in nuclear power (3.2%), hydropower (0.8%) and wind and solar power (12.2%).

Global methane emissions increase by 1.3%

The largest sources of methane emissions are fossil fuel production (32% share), ruminant livestock (e.g. cattle (28%)), rice production (9%), and landfill and waste water (19%). However, recent studies indicate that methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems, are the most likely sources to have been underestimated, by up to 40% globally, which would increase the share of fuel production from 32% to up to 38%.

In 2019, global CH4 emissions increased by 1.3% to a total of 390 MtCH4 (9.8 GtCO2 eq), which is 25% higher than in 1990. The 1.3% increase in 2019 is somewhat below that in 2017 and 2018, but markedly higher than in 2015 and 2016, when methane emissions saw almost no change.

The sources that contributed most to the increase in 2019 (in decreasing order of absolute changes) were coal production (+3.0%), livestock and particularly non-dairy cattle (+1.1%) and natural gas production and transmission (+2.7%), accounting for three quarters of the total net increase in emissions.

Countries that contributed most to the 1.3% increase were notably China (+2.2%) and the United States (+2.5%), with further increases (in decreasing order of absolute changes) in Indonesia (+2.3%), Brazil (+1.3%), Russian Federation (+1.3%) and Pakistan (+2.8%).

Background information

This is the fourth time that total global greenhouse emissions, including non-CO2 emissions, are reported, using data from the EC-JRC/PBL Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) version 5.0 for 1970–2015. For 2016–2019, preliminary estimates were used, mostly based on very recent statistics and, where required, past trends were extrapolated. This report is the first to provide estimates of total global GHG emissions including 2019, based on detailed activity data on most of the sources for these years. The data were also used in the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2020, released 9 December 2020.


About the topic:

Energy and Climate Change

We report on the progress made with regard to the climate and energy transition, analysing the current and future impact of policy on greenhouse gas emission reduction and exploring various options for achieving the reduction targets.

More about energy and climate change