From transport to agriculture to retail, almost every industry contributes to increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. With the rise of the global climate movement there is a new focus on the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly with a spotlight on more carbon-intensive industries.
So what industries are the biggest polluters and who has the highest carbon footprint?
In the last 150 years humanity has been responsible for almost all greenhouse gas emissions. Some of this comes from how we live our everyday lives, with how we heat our houses, cook our food and switch on the lights all contributing to our carbon footprint. In 2018 though, only 12% of US greenhouse gas emissions came from businesses and homes. That leaves us with the question of where does the rest come from?
The bulk of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from industry and there are three standouts when looking for what industries are the biggest polluters, these culprits are the electricity, transport and industrial sector. According to the World Resource Institute these three sectors create 73% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Why are these Industries so harmful?
One of the driving forces behind the high carbon footprint of these industries is increased global demand coupled with unsustainable practices. In 2018 the power sector accounted for close to two-thirds of global emissions growth, with energy-related CO2 emissions reaching a huge 33.1Gt. Most of these emissions came from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. However, despite coal being so polluting, 63% of electricity in the US was created from burning fossil fuels.
The transport industry didn’t fare much better. Except for railways, all areas of the transport industry have experienced a global rise in emissions, with this industry the highest polluter in the US in 2018. Most of these emission levels come from the burning of fuel. Cars, planes and ships crossing the Earth, burning huge amounts of fuel creates a massive carbon footprint.
Unsustainable industrial processes are another driving force in CO2 emissions. This comes not only from the greenhouse gas emissions created in running factories and heavy machinery but also involves the release of emissions from increased use of refrigeration and air-conditioning in this sector. These practices coupled with the release of chemicals and gasses used in the production and manufacturing processes, make the industrial sector a highly carbon-intensive industry.
What is being Done?
The good news is that there is greater global awareness of this issue and as such, a greater push for change. Climate movements have swept the globe bringing attention to global emissions and putting pressure on industries to reduce their carbon footprint. Countries including Iceland and Costa Rica have switched to largely renewable energy sources and adoption of renewable energy sources around the world has saved 215 Mt of greenhouse gasses being released into the atmosphere. While programs to encourage public transport and to switch to more sustainable transport options are growing in popularity.
"As consumers we have the power to influence industries to adopt more sustainable practices and products through what and how we choose to use and buy. Together we can create clearer skies for us all."
When asking what industries are the biggest polluters, the electricity, transport and industrial sectors may be the current answer, but the good news is there are viable solutions to reduce CO2 emissions and limit the impact of carbon-intensive industries. As consumers we have the power to influence industries to adopt more sustainable practices and products through what and how we choose to use and buy. Together we can create clearer skies for us all.