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Visualizing the Flow of Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in the U.S.



The following content is sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council

The Flow of Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in the U.S.

In 2021, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the generation and consumption of energy reached 4.9 billion tonnes. Fossil fuels including petroleum, natural gas, and coal made up 100% of these emissions.

To better understand how various energy sources and their end-uses contribute to carbon emissions, this graphic sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council visualizes the flow of energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States.

What Are Energy-Related CO2 Emissions?

Energy-related CO2 emissions refer to the release of carbon dioxide as a result of the combustion of fuels to produce energy. They arise through the direct use of fossil fuels for transport, heating, or industrial needs, as well as the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

In addition to the emissions that arise from the generation and consumption of energy, there are several other ways CO2 emissions can arise. To provide some context, they can result as a byproduct of industrial chemical reactions, deforestation, and agricultural activities.

As the largest contributor to carbon emissions, however, energy-related CO2 emissions account for approximately 85% of all emissions in the United States, which we will now explore in further detail.

U.S. Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in 2021

Followed by a pandemic-driven decline in 2020, energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. increased by 325 million tonnes in 2021, marking the largest-ever annual increase. Clean energy sources, namely solar, wind, nuclear, biomass and hydropower, accounted for 0% of these emissions.

Energy SourceCO2 emissions in million tonnes, 2021% of total energy-related emissions
Natural Gas1,63733.7%
Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydro, and Biomass00%

When we follow the CO2 emissions from the above fossil fuels to their end uses, transportation and electricity generation stand out as the biggest contributors.

In 2021, these two sectors accounted for more than 68% of all energy-related emissions in the country, roughly emitting 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2.

End-Uses CO2 emissions in million tonnes, 2021% of total energy-related emissions
Electricity Generation1,53731.6%
Industrial Uses96519.8%
Residential Uses3216.6%
Commercial Uses2394.9%

When it comes to transportation, petroleum accounted for 97% of emissions, largely due to motor gasoline and diesel consumption. On the other hand, coal and natural gas made up 99% of CO2 emissions related to electricity generation.

Due to its high carbon intensity, coal’s contribution to power sector emissions is of particular interest. As the share of coal rose from 20% to 23% in the U.S. electricity mix in 2021, electricity emissions from coal also increased for the first time since 2014.

Naturally, this shift raised the overall energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021. It also caused a 4% hike in the carbon intensity of the country’s electricity, hinting at the urgent need for a shift away from coal.

The Path to Decarbonization: Lowering Emissions

The impact of climate change has become increasingly clear in recent years. To avoid its worst impacts, it’s essential to achieve decarbonization across all sectors, which requires significant reductions in energy-related carbon emissions.

One of the most critical sectors for emissions reductions is transportation, which accounts for nearly 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions. The good news is that there is enormous potential to reduce these emissions through the use of electric vehicles and the decarbonization of the electricity used to charge them.

To decarbonize the power sector, the U.S. must transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear power. Once achieved, decarbonized electricity also has the power to reduce emissions from all other sectors that use electricity, including industrial, residential and commercial activities.

By taking bold action toward these objectives, the U.S. can accelerate the transition to a clean energy future within its borders and beyond.

Click here to learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization.

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Visualized: Global CO2 Emissions Through Time (1950–2022)

In this streamgraph, we break down global CO2 emissions between 1950 and 2022 using data from Berkeley Earth and Global Carbon Project.



Preview image of a streamgraph showing global CO2 emissions between 1950-2022, broken down by region.

Visualized: Global CO2 Emissions Through Time (1950-2022)

Global CO2 emissions have grown six-fold since 1950.

But which countries have contributed the most to this growth?

In this streamgraph, created in partnership with the National Public Utilities Council, we answer that question using regional emissions data from Berkeley Earth and Global Carbon Project

Global CO2 Emissions: The Last 70 Years in Review

In the 1950s, the United States and the countries that later formed the European Union (EU) were the biggest emitters in the world, responsible for over 70% of total annual emissions.

However, this trend swiftly changed as other nations entered the fray.

For instance, China’s economic surge in the 1970s, particularly with the advent of Deng Xiaoping’s new economic strategy in 1978, triggered a notable uptick in the country’s CO2 output. From 1950 to 2000, China witnessed a surge of over 4,500% in emissions, reaching an annual 3.6 billion tonnes by 2000.

Similarly, India, Japan, and the broader Asian region, all experienced emission growth exceeding 1,000% between 1950 and 2000.

Metric tons of carbon dioxide (tCO2)195020002022Change 1950–2000Change 2000–2022
Asia (excl. China, Japan, and India)0.2B3.2B6.2B1,973%95%
United States of America2.5B6.0B5.1B136%-16%
European Union1.8B4.2B3.1B134%-26%
Rest of World0.4B2.5B2.9B465%16%
South America0.1B0.8B1.1B621%34%

Data note: 1950 was used as a beginning point for the graph due to the lack of available data for many countries prior to that year. 

As illustrated in the table above, the growth in global carbon emissions has slowed since 2000.

With that said, global emissions have still risen from 25 billion tonnes in 2000 to 37 billion in 2022, yet another all-time high. Today, over 40% of emissions come from the United States and China, underscoring their pivotal roles in shaping the global emissions landscape.

Where Are We Headed From Here?

The United Nations’ recent Emissions Gap report highlights a concerning reality: the ongoing rate of emissions combined with existing policies steers humanity towards a world that is 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels. This contrasts starkly with the goals of 1.5–2°C agreed to in 2015.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that such a degree of warming will bring catastrophic repercussions, from severe changes in weather patterns to rising sea levels, widespread extinctions, and critical disruptions to global food and water systems.

This underscores the critical need for swift, concerted action to curb emissions and mitigate the impending environmental challenges that are potentially before us.

Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.

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Visualized: Per Capita Electricity Emissions, by State

This graphic showcases electricity emissions by state, highlighting each state’s largest source of power.




Per Capita Electricity Emissions by State

The U.S. is the second-largest CO₂ emitter worldwide, with electric power contributing significantly to the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In collaboration with the National Public Utilities Council, this graphic uses data from eGrid to showcase per-capita electricity emissions by state and each state’s largest source of power.

U.S. Power Sector: Second in CO₂ Emissions

According to the Global Carbon Atlas, the top three global polluters are China, the U.S., and India—accounting for half of the world’s CO₂ emissions.

The U.S., however, leads by far in terms of CO₂ emissions per capita, with 15.3 metric tons per person, while China and India have lower rates at 7.4 and 1.9, respectively.

A substantial portion of these emissions comes from electricity generation. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the electric power sector is the second-largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 25% to the total.

Examining emissions per state, Wyoming, North Dakota, and West Virginia top the list of CO₂ emissions per capita, relying primarily on coal as their source of energy.

Here is a table showing emissions by state per capita, from highest to lowest:

StateCO2 emissions in tons per capita (2021)Biggest Source of Electricity (2021)
Wyoming68.77 tCoal
North Dakota37.08 tCoal
West Virginia35.84 tCoal
Kentucky13.40 tCoal
Montana11.78 tCoal
Indiana11.28 tCoal
Arkansas10.97 tCoal
Nebraska10.87 tCoal
Alabama10.61 tNatural Gas
Missouri10.20 tCoal
Utah9.95 tCoal
Mississippi9.57 tNatural Gas
New Mexico9.40 tCoal
Louisiana8.67 tNatural Gas
Iowa8.08 tWind
Kansas8.07 tWind
Oklahoma7.62 tWind
Texas6.96 tNatural Gas
Wisconsin6.92 tCoal
Pennsylvania 6.74 tNatural Gas
Ohio6.45 tNatural Gas
Colorado5.95 tCoal
Michigan 5.76 tCoal
Arizona5.41 tNatural Gas
South Carolina5.36 tNuclear
Nevada4.74 tNatural Gas
Hawaii4.73 tPetroleum
Florida4.70 tNatural Gas
Illinois 4.67 tNuclear
Georgia4.36 tNatural Gas
Minnesota4.28 tCoal
Alaska4.13 tNatural Gas
North Carolina4.11 tNatural Gas
Tennessee3.96 tNuclear
Rhode Island3.54 tNatural Gas
Virginia3.22 tNatural Gas
Connecticut3.13 tNatural Gas
South Dakota2.93 tWind
Oregon2.34 tHydro
Maryland2.16 tNuclear
New Hampshire1.88 tNuclear
Delaware 1.86 tNatural Gas
New Jersey 1.59 tNatural Gas
Washington1.44 tHydro
New York1.42 tNatural Gas
California1.21 tNatural Gas
Idaho1.20 tHydro
Maine1.19 tHydro
Massachusetts 1.18 tNatural Gas
District of Columbia0.09 tNatural Gas
Vermont0.06 tHydro

Interestingly, from the top 10 on our list, only Alabama doesn’t have coal as the main source of electricity.

Conversely, four of the 10 states with the lowest CO₂ emissions per capita rely more heavily on renewables, especially hydropower.

Two of the largest consumers, California and Texas, have natural gas as their main source of electricity, but also maintain a significant share of renewable sources, with 34% and 44%, respectively.

Although coal accounted for 59% of CO₂ emissions from the energy sector, it represented only 23% of the electricity generated in the United States. Natural gas accounted for 37% of electricity generation in 2021.

The Transition to Low-Emission Sources

The U.S. has set a goal to reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.

Transitioning to low-emission energy sources like hydroelectricity, biomass, wind, and solar is essential for meeting U.S. climate goals.

In addition, clean energy stands out as the most significant job creator in America’s energy sector, with over 3 million Americans employed in clean energy jobs during 2021.

By embracing more renewables and nuclear power, U.S. utilities can reduce emissions and contribute to economic development.

Click here to learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization.

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