This City Emits the Most Carbon Dioxide on Earth

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

The Biden administration is investing $1.2 billions to develop giant machines to suck the carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. It remains to be seen if these machines, which are based on a relatively new technology, will have the effects needed to reverse the climate change trend in the last few years. Even as governments and citizens around the world become more conscious of climate change, global CO2 levels continue to hit all-time highs every year, including last year.

Carbon dioxide is an acidic colorless gas. Because it is soluble in water, it can be found in a number of liquids which include oil and natural gas. It is also a greenhouse gas found in the Earth’s atmosphere. Its concentration has increased over time because of, primarily, the burning of fossil fuels. (See how global warming is affecting every state.)

Because humanity has been slow to address climate with the urgency it requires, it is difficult to know how well currently revised plans and good intentions will play out. The best and most grounded national and municipal plans provide for close monitoring and plan revisions, however, allowing for the measuring of progress and the kind of reality check crucial to actual success.

To identify the city with the worst CO2 emissions in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Nangini, C et al. (2019): “A global dataset of CO2 emissions and ancillary data related to emissions for 343 cities,” published in 2017 and available through data publisher Pangaea. Emissions data were collected in each of the cities on this list between the years of 2011 and 2017, in each case the most recent year for which CO2 emissions data is available.

Emissions figures from transport, industrial, waste, and local power plants within city boundaries, as well as emissions (when available) from grid-supplied energy used by cities and produced by power plants outside city boundaries, were also obtained from the study.

The city with the worst CO2 emissions is Tokyo, Japan. Here are the details:

> Total emissions in 2014: 70.13 million tons of CO2 equivalent
> Transport, industrial, waste, and local power plants: 27.61 million tons of CO2 equivalent — #6 most in study
> Grid-supplied energy produced outside the city boundary: 42.52 million tons of CO2 equivalent — #1 most in study
> Population in 2014: 13.5 million

In its climate strategies, Tokyo does not differ greatly from other megacities, struggling more with implementation than with goal setting, but it is making headway on a transportation program that is more novel than most. The city promotes the use of hydrogen fueled vehicles, for which water is the sole byproduct. As of last year, Tokyo had installed 19 hydrogen fueling stations and was employing 70 fuel cell busses.

The research site Sciencing describes the role of carbon dioxide in greenhouse gas emissions:

“Carbon dioxide contributes to air pollution in its role in the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide traps radiation at ground level, creating ground-level ozone. This atmospheric layer prevents the earth from cooling at night.”

The UN recently sounded the alarm about the immediate imperative to take action to reduce the emission of heat trapping gases, with the Secretary General calling the report a “code red for humanity.” While it is now too late to reverse climate change, governments can still slow its pace and work to avoid increasingly more devastating consequences.

Countries around the world are revising their climate action plans in light of frightening new data, tightening their emission goals and reinvigorating their energy greening and efficiency programs. Most have set a target of either 80% reduction or net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but, still, most are not on track to meet those goals, as their governments struggle with economic realities and lack of momentum.

Click here to see the cities that emit the most carbon dioxide in the world