Where do the world’s carbon emissions really come from?

In 2020, global greenhouse gas emissions totaled 40 gigatonnes, a 7% decrease from 2019 (thanks to COVID-19), but we still have so much work to do to reduce emissions before we experience the worst impacts of climate change. However, in a world where we’re told that nearly everything we do is environmentally unfriendly, knowing the areas to target can be tough.

So, where exactly do these emissions come from, and what can we do in our everyday lives to reduce them?

Source: The Conversation


Energy makes up 73% of global emissions. Nearly 12% of this comes from road transport and 2% from aviation. Energy use in buildings (heating, air conditioning, etc) makes up nearly 18%. 

Agriculture, forestry and land use makes up a little over 18% of global emissions. This includes deforestation for farmland, using fertilisers or other chemicals that release toxic gases and raising animals for meat. The food system as a whole, including refrigeration, food processing, packaging and transport, represents around one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Waste contributes a little over 3% to global emissions. This includes methane emissions from landfills. Direct industrial processes, like producing cement, make up the rest. 

Source: Our World Data


There are things that we can do that can lower emissions from each category:

Source: BBC

Energy: we can cut back on cars and use public transport (fortunately, in Hong Kong, we are blessed with many reliable options!) or use less carbon-intensive forms of transport, like trains instead of buses.

In our homes, we can buy appliances that are energy efficient, many of them now have a “energy barometer” sticker signifying their energy consumption level. Switch off lights and install energy-saving light bulbs and unplug certain appliances when not in use . 

Source: North Virginia Magazine

Agriculture: this is one of the more controversial topics because it involves making changes to diet and consumption habits, which are personal and often difficult to alter. There is speculation as to whether a fully plant-based diet is ideal for everyone including the planet, but what is clear is that cutting down significantly on meat is important while choosing pasture raised meat as much as you can.

You can take part in Meatless Mondays and eat more organic food that is free of pesticides and fertilisers. You can also be more mindful of your everyday purchases for example, are you buying from brands that support deforestation or use excessive plastic packaging? Are you buying too much food that will inevitably go to waste?

Doing a bit of research into the goods you buy will make a world of difference! 

Source: SCMP

Waste: ultimately, the less waste that goes to landfills, the better. To do this, you can reduce your own waste, or you could try composting it; this is difficult in space-starved Hong Kong, but apartment-friendly ones like this or this make it easy! 

At the end of the day, it’s up to corporations and governments to implement measures to cut emissions, but until then, there are things that we can do in our everyday lives that would help. If everyone makes small changes, it amounts to huge progress!