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Did you know that the world emitted an estimated 37-40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2023? To put it into perspective, that’s equivalent to the weight of about 6,000 Eiffel Towers. Not all countries contribute equally to this staggering figure, but almost all contribute in some way. According to carbon emission data from 2023, four countries make up over 50% of the world’s CO2 emissions: China, the United States, India, and Russia.

Which Country Has the Most Carbon Emissions in 2023?

As noted, China, the United States, India, and Russia were the top four carbon emitters in 2023. Although each country has made clear pledges to cut their emissions in the coming years, progress has been slow due to a combination of global and country-specific factors.


China was the largest emitter of CO2 in 2023, totaling 10.6 million tonnes. That’s nearly 30% of the global total, and more than the combined emissions of the United States and India. China’s CO2 emissions grew 10% year-over-year in Q1 of 2023, about 1% higher than 2021’s numbers.

Much of these increased emissions can be attributed to urbanization, as well as the country’s recent swell in coal power construction and investments in coal-based steel capacity. On a brighter side, it appears that the rise of electric vehicles in China is quelling petrol demand. In September of 2020, President Xi Jinping pledged to peak the country’s emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

United States

The United States was the second-largest emitter of CO2 in 2023 with 4.7 million tonnes, which, although slightly lower than its 2022 numbers, still makes up about 15% of the current global total. According to the New York Times, carbon emissions in the states fell by nearly 2% thanks to a decreased reliance on coal for electricity.

With these recent numbers, U.S. emissions have now decreased by 17.2% since 2005. Along with other countries, there was a significant drop in pollution when COVID-19 first struck due to large segments of the economy being shut down. However, emissions worldwide saw a sharp uptick once those segments recovered.

The U.S. rejoined the Paris Agreement in 2021, and committed to cutting its emissions in half (50-52%) by 2030 from 2005 levels.


India emitted 3.2 million tonnes in 2023, making it the third-highest carbon emitter in the world. This calculates to about 9% of the global total, and marks an increase of 6.7% from 2022. Russia formerly held the third-place rank, but from 1992 to 2017, the Soviet Union’s emissions actually dropped by roughly 30%, while India’s have soared.

Due to growing energy demand and development goals, the country’s CO2 emissions have grown rapidly in recent years. This led to India’s pledge to reduce its emissions intensity by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 levels, and to increase its share of renewable energy.


Russia was the fourth-largest emitter of CO2 in 2023 with 1.7 million tonnes, making up 5% of the global total—a slight decrease from 2022. Russia’s CO2 emissions have been relatively consistent over the years, as its economy relies heavily on fossil fuels, but the country has also made positive strides. Between 1992 and 2017, for example, Russia’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels dropped from 2,073.3 to 1,525.3 million tons of CO2, before rising by 3% from 2017-2018.

Russia has pledged to reduce its emissions by 25-30% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Still, the country is in a “critically insufficient” stage according to Climate Action Tracker, with lacking policies and slow progression toward its Net Zero target by 2060.

What the Latest Carbon Emission Data Means for the Future

The latest carbon emission data shows that the world is still far from achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2°C (preferably 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels.

According to the UN, the current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) could lead to a 2.7°C increase by the end of the century, which would have devastating consequences for the environment and humanity. Knowing this, the UN is compelling people and businesses to act urgently in reducing global CO2 emissions with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, true change requires a global cooperation and transformation of numerous sectors, from energy and transport to heavy industry and land use. It also calls for a shift in the consumption and lifestyle patterns of individuals, businesses, and whole societies, seeing as every tonne of CO2 that we emit today will have an impact on future generations.

The time for change is now, and respect for our planet is crucial. The question is, can we find the collective will to enact such widespread climate action?

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