by Thomas Schulz and Mariana Bozesan, AQAL Capital GmbH, Munich

AQAL Capital releases the annual update to the “Worldwide CO2 Emissions” variwide chart.

The new CO2 emissions report of the International Energy Agency (IEA 2022; representing the 2020 data set) is available and with it our updated variwide chart, displaying the anthropogenic CO2 emissions by region and per capita.

2020 Worldwide CO2 Emissions, visualized in a variwide chart;
based on IEA (2022), “Greenhouse gas emissions from energy”;
click image to enlarge; click here to download a PDF

Global anthropogenic emissions were lower in 2020 than in 2019

The aggregate worldwide emissions in 2020 were 31.7 Gt CO2 and 5.7% lower than in 2019 (see our 2019 variwide chart here) due to reduced global economic activity during the COVID pandemic.

Only China’s per capita emissions went up for several reasons in 2020. On the one hand, their energy demand spiked through their economic activity including manufacturing for other nations that have outsourced their business activities, and with that their CO2 emissions, to China (see: Climate Action Tracker). On the other hand, China’s push for further modernization, increased demand for energy security, secured through coal mainly, and enlarged military expenditure, all of which are expected to significantly increase after the 2022 national congressHowever, according to The Economist, China seems to have become more carbon-efficient and emitted much less greenhouse gas per person in 2016 than Western countries’ average at the same stage of economic development in 1885, measured in GDP.

Significant inequality

There is a wide spread in per capita emissions between different regions of the world. We see that the per capita emissions of developed countries can be as high as 29 t/yr (Qatar), while that of developing countries can be as low as 0.6 t/yr (Africa w/o South Africa). This spread is almost 50x (up from 40x in 2019). This correlates with the unequal global distribution of wealth.

The U.S. and Canada are emitting 2.5 times (~13 t/yr) more per capita than OECD Europe (~5.2 t/yr). China with 7.1 t/yr is well above the world average of 4.1 t/yr and has reached the status of a developed country in terms of CO2 emissions.

The rest of Asia, especially India, and Africa are well below the world average, but they are catching up economically and in terms of CO2 emissions, also due to their increasing populations.

The heavily skewed picture also suggests that we can expect a capital transfer from the left (high-emitters/developed countries) to the right (low-emitters/developing countries). Someone has to pay for building the renewable energy infrastructure in India, South America, Asia, and Africa… and the fact is, the money is in North America, Australia, Europe, and the OPEC countries.

Future Outlook: There is Hope

Future numbers will show how much has really been done to fulfill current climate ambitions and reduce the per capita and country anthropogenic emissions. The International Energy Agency expects the 2022 CO2 emissions to rise by only 1% after the much more significant surge after COVID in 2021. We will let you know when the actual numbers become available.

The goal of COP27 in Egypt this year remains the implementation of the net zero emissions by 2050 and the fulfillment of the 2015 Paris agreement, and to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (the original 1.5-degree goal becomes elusive).

There are many signs of hope and here are a few:

  1. China, as one of the fastest-growing economies, is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and was responsible for more than 1/4 of the global green gas emissions in 2019 compared with a 7% share for EU states (PDF here). However, China has pledged peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.
  2. The invasion of Russia in Ukraine may have helped in a paradoxical way:
    • European Union countries were forced to secure further independence from Russian gas and accelerate their path toward renewable energy sources (wind & solar)
    • EU is cutting peak energy use by 5% (Source)
    • Germany increased their efforts toward implementing the Energiewende through surging investments in solar and wind energy, after a decade of hesitation.
    • Both the EU and the U.S. have passed new regulations to shift to renewables by securing the availability of raw materials. In September 2022, the European Commission launched the European Critical Law on Materials Act to secure energy resources while transitioning toward sustainable energy models.
  3. The new Australian government has become very active in climate policies and is expected to reduce most emissions compared with other G20 economies (The Economist).
  4. Despite economic challenges, the new Brazilian government under President Lula da Silva has pledged to “protect the Amazon rainforest and overhaul Brazil’s environmental policy” in support of climate action. (source)
  5. Although India is one of the top ten polluters (source) worldwide and produces almost 75% of her electricity from coal, it has committed to investing heavily in clean technology, to become a green superpower, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. (The Economist)
  6. The President of the USA Biden launched the Green New Deal and in August of 2022, he signed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which aims to curb inflation by authorizing USD 391 billion for clean energy and climate change by promoting clean energy through tax credits for electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, solar panels, and better housing insulation, to name a few.

Summary: Transformation is Feasible

The world’s “high emitters” face several complex challenges: 

  1. Accelerate their transition to sustainable economic systems based on renewable energy sources, 
  2. Accept losses from stranded assets and switch off fossil-fuel-based infrastructure before their end of life, and 
  3. Finance the transition to renewable energy infrastructure in developing countries to ensure the future of life on the planet.

Conversely, “low emitters” are currently in a catch-up phase. Their priority is economic development which is linked to higher energy usage. They are called upon to give up any plans based on fossil fuels, and instead invest in renewable energy sources co-financed by developed countries.

How can these two sides work together?

The current 4.1 t/yr/capita CO2 emissions must be reduced to ZERO by 2050 (the horizontal red line in the variwide chart must go down to zero). Beyond 2050, humanity will have to remove CO2 from the atmosphere to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The CO2 reduction efforts currently taking place in some industrial countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and other European countries, contribute a relatively small portion to the net zero goal. However, the leadership role these countries can play should not be underestimated because they pave the way toward a low-carbon economy for bigger polluters. However, the newly revived investments into nuclear power are not sustainable, for they shift the responsibility and risks associated with nuclear waste to future generations. Replacing the dangers of climate change with the risks associated with nuclear waste would be counteractive and defeats the purpose of COP27.

In summary, it becomes obvious that without a significant decrease in CO2 emissions by the world’s largest polluters such as the United States and China, the Earth will not be able to absorb additional CO2 emissions to make room for developing nations such as India and African nations to develop. Because of the existing imbalance, developing countries will not have the room to increase their own per capita emissions without endangering the safe operating system of our planet. It goes without question that developed countries are to be made responsible for the current situation. But to what use? Moving forward, the fate of the Earth is being determined by the course of action taken by both developed and developing countries.

Although the overall picture remains sobering, it also provides a clear focus on the urgency of addressing the problem, anthropogenic climate change, and massive, collective, global actions to be taken. As far as we are concerned, the best proposal thus far has been made by the Stockholm Resilience Centre through their 2018 report to the Club of Rome Transformation is Feasible, and the 2022 Earth4All CLub of Rome report. This report has significantly informed and influenced the investment strategy and tactics of our family office, which we summarized in our book and report to the Club of Rome Integral Investing: From Profit to Prosperity.

How to understand the variwide chart

This type of visualization answers immediately questions like

  • “Which countries are the largest CO2 emitters?”
  • “How significant is the spread between per capita emissions in different countries?”
  • “Which countries are reducing their CO2 emissions?”
  • “Which countries are still increasing their CO2 emissions?”

The variwide chart allows the visualization of a multitude of data dimensions in one easy-to-read diagram. These data dimensions are: 

  1. Individual country data, such as China, South Africa, or the USA, or a group of countries such as the Middle East, Africa, or Australia/New Zealand,
  2. Population by country or group of countries, 
  3. Per capita CO2 emissions, and 
  4. CO2 emissions growth year-over-year

The total CO2 emissions of a region are represented as a rectangular area. The height of each rectangle is proportional to the CO2 emissions per capita and the width is proportional to the population of the represented region. The regions are sorted by CO2 emissions per capita, from the highest to the lowest.

The per capita emission average is indicated by the horizontal red line.

The colors of the rectangles indicate their growth rate: “heating up” is represented from light red to dark red, and “cooling down” goes from light blue to dark blue.

Note: We are using the latest IEA data set “CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion”. These numbers do not include other greenhouse gases, or other CO2 emissions, such as from volcanic activity or agriculture. However, they are a good proxy for human-made (=anthropogenic) emissions.

Reference: International Energy Agency (2022). Greenhouse gas emissions from energy (retrieved on Sep 18, 2022, at

2020 Worldwide CO2 Emissions (by region; per capita), variwide chart by Thomas Schulz is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0