climate change globalisation

The 20 countries most responsible for climate change

In 2019 Carbon Brief released a very helpful analysis of historic responsibility for climate change. This week they have published an updated version, and it’s worth mentioning it again. An important addition this time is the data on land use, so it includes the carbon impact of deforestation.

It also includes import and export information, as well as accounting for population – two factors that I explained in a recent post on why the Global North is disproportionately responsible for climate change.

Putting these considerations together, Carbon Brief’s list of countries with the biggest cumulative emissions is as follows:

The effect of deforestation is enough to put Brazil and Indonesia into the top five, despite their relatively small emissions from fossil fuels. It’s also interesting to see how forestry has reduced the impact of France, Germany and Poland – one of the reasons why it’s important to talk about net emissions, however much some people might protest that net is a get-out clause.

For those who continue to grumble that climate campaigners should take their protests to China, and that the UK can hardly make any difference, this is one of the reasons it matters. With less than 1% of the world’s population, Britain’s early industrialisation is enough to put us in the top ten biggest emitters. That’s a historic responsibility we should take seriously.

Lots more to look at at Carbon Brief, including a useful video showing contributions over time.


  1. Thanks – this provoked me to look up their per-capita figures, and though I note that these need caution in interpreting, I was struck by how far up UK is in emissions per present-day population, but also that a lot of countries have very similar values, which suggests that all are similarly responsible.

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