Cumulative CO2 Emissions


I recently posted a series of plots:

trying to get a handle on the most effective comparative measure of national CO2 emissions. However, I recently read this article, which inspired me to continue the analysis. The data is originally from Carbon Brief, and charts the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of various countries since 1750. Vox writer Umair Irfan asserts that the United States of America is the all-time biggest, baddest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.

But why should we care about the cumulative emissions across the last 200 years? He posits the following 3 conclusions:

  • Cumulative emissions are the critical factor behind the warming we’re experiencing. A significant percentage of emissions lingers in the atmosphere for millennia, which means that a large chunk of the CO2 in the atmosphere today originated from the Western countries that experienced industrialization.

  • The United States has an outsized role in global warming, despite recent progress. The largest share of CO2 emitted since the Industrial Revolution comes from the US.

  • Carbon intensity matters more than population for cumulative emissions. This means that the biggest emitters are also the strongest economically.

So let's create somThe data I'm using is downloaded from OWID, which is originally sourced from the Global Carbon Project (, Gapminder and UN population estimates.

Loading output library...

Total Accumulative CO2 Emissions

Loading output library...
Loading output library...

In the chart above, we have plotted the cumulative emissions of each nation through time from circa 1750 to 2016. The UK was the world’s first industrial-scale CO2 emitter, before emissions in other European countries and North America shortly followed and produced CO2 over the majority of this time period.

Fast-forwarding to the accumulated totals we see today (2016 on the map), the US and Europe as a whole dominate in terms of cumulative emissions. China’s rapid growth in emissions over the last few decades now makes it the world’s second largest cumulative emitter, although it still comes in at less than half of the US total.

Umair finishes with the conclusion, and I wholeheartedly agree, ultimately the largest share of the burden in cleaning up this mess should fall to those who played the largest role in creating it. If there's anyone that hasn't been paying attention that refers to Western developed nations, the United States in particular.

Now let's measure cumulative emissions by per-capita. This is purely for my own interest!

Per Capita Accumulative CO2 Emissions

Loading output library...
Loading output library...

Granted, that disperses the responsiblity among many more countries, but again, the US takes the biscuit.