With the Paris summit being just around the corner, it’s time to step back and look at who the big actors are. Ten countries emit almost 75% of all greenhouse emissions and without their contribution, we can’t transition to a sustainable future.


Credits: Mihai Andrei for ZME Science.

The first one is, of course, China. In recent years, China has taken the “crown” for the world’s biggest polluter, all due to its massive growth based on coal energy. However, in the past couple of years, China has invested more than anyone else into curbing the emissions. For the first time, their economy has decoupled from coal usage, meaning that their economy has grown, while coal usage has dropped. Although they can be blamed for much of today’s pollution, they seem committed to seriously reduce their impact. They’ve set very ambitious goals, they talk the talk, it’s time to see if they can walk the walk.

Coming in at second place, the traditional leading polluter – the United States. The US is the only country in the top three with decreasing emissions, but they are blamed by many of moving too slowly and still investing massively in subsidizing the oil industry and taking baby steps instead of strides. People expect the US to be leading the world in terms of sustainable development, but they’re simply not. Political opposition seems to be key for them, but we can expect the US to reduce its impact in the future; at the very least, it seems likely.

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In third place, the newcomer, India. India is the poorest of the top 10 emitters and the last country to publicly announce goals for reducing emissions. India has the fastest growing economy in the world and it hasn’t committed to a concrete reduction in emissions, asking for outside support. India could prove pivotal for the climate talks in Paris.

After that, we have a group of rich, developed countries: Japan, Germany, South Korea and Canada. Japan’s future seems uncertain as they’ve become more reliant on coal since the Fukushima disaster, but Germany and South Korea are taking significant steps to reducing their impact. Especially Germany has become an example in many aspects when it comes to renewable energy. But on the other hand, Canada has actually increased its impact in recent years, due to the development of tar sand oil. In recent years, Canada seems to become more and more reluctant to reduce its emissions, and whether or not they will agree to some sort of agreement will be crucial to the success of the negotiations.

Russia comes next, and as usually, Russia seems to be quite unpredictable. Not quite a developing country but not quite developed, Russia’s goal is a 25-35 percent drop from 1990 levels by 2030. That is, while not groundbreaking, still a respectable plan – if it will be successful.

The last two countries on the list, Indonesia and Brazil face a different problem: deforestation. For them, it would be more important to reduce deforestation and thus provide environmental benefits for the planet than reducing emissions. Plans for reducing deforestation exist, but whether or not these plans can be actually enforced is still anyone’s guess.

These are the main actors, but that doesn’t mean that other countries don’t count. What Panama does matters, what New Zealand does matters, and what Romania does matters. We all have to play our part – there’s no other way if we want to build a healthy future for humanity.