• Which Countries Emit the Most Black Carbon?

Air Monitoring

Which Countries Emit the Most Black Carbon?

Oct 05 2022

An unwanted by-product of the partial combustion of organic matter (including fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas, as well as biofuels such as wood, peat and dung), black carbon is a significant concern in both environmental and human health terms. Adept at trapping heat in ambient air and accelerating the melting of the polar icecaps, it’s also a key component of particulate matter (PM), an airborne contaminant deadly to humans.

So where, exactly, is all this black carbon coming from? The principal sources of the pollution are diesel engine exhaust fumes, household wood-burning stoves, coal-fired power plants, crop stubble burning and forest fires. However, the contributions which each of these sources make to the overall problem can vary depending upon geographical region. Here’s a closer look at the main offenders – and the particular sources of black carbon for which they are responsible.

The West on the mend

Historically speaking, the developed world has been responsible for the vast majority of black carbon emissions, as is also the case with carbon dioxide. However, increased awareness over the immense global warming potential (GWP) of black carbon has led to tighter regulations surrounding stove emissions, more intense legislation for diesel engine specifications and a transition towards cleaner sources of heat and energy generation.

This means that while somewhere like the USA is responsible for over a fifth of global CO2 emissions, it’s responsible for just 6% of the black carbon present in our atmosphere. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the developing world, though the gains seen in the West could easily be replicated elsewhere if the lessons learned there are applied universally.

Having said that, the relatively small contributions of black carbon that Europe and North America do make arise from the transportation sector and could actually result in greater ecological damage. That’s because of their vicinity to the Arctic Circle, with strong winds carrying black carbon particles over long distances and settling upon the snow and ice found there. Since the melting of these precious resources could contribute to a downward spiralling of global warming, the West should not rest on its laurels in mitigating black carbon emissions.

The developing world is the current major culprit

Even so, it’s impossible to look past the fact that the overwhelming majority of black carbon emissions today are produced in the developing world. In fact, it’s thought that Africa, Asia and Latin America are cumulatively responsible for a whopping 88% of the black carbon spouted into our skies today. China and India alone account for up to a third of that pollution.

The chief sources of black carbon in these parts of the world is from household combustion of biomass (such as wood and dung), as well as coal burning for energy and heat. With an electricity infrastructure sorely lacking across many parts of the world and the local populations too impoverished to afford more eco-friendly means of sustaining themselves, it’s no surprise that they are the major black carbon contributors today.

In Africa, these contamination hotspots are restricted mostly to equatorial regions, whereas they are spread throughout eastern China, the Indo-Gangetic plains of India and most of southeast Asia in that continent. In Latin America, they are largely restricted to Brazil, Peru and Central America. It will take dedicated funding and collaborative assistance from wealthier nations to allow these offenders to curb their emissions and reduce their contributions to atmospheric black carbon.

Digital Edition

MAC Guide 2022/23

December 2022

In This Edition Buyers Guide - This Buyers’ guide lists many of the major producers of analytical equipment who wish to introduce and sell their products to buyers in science and industry....

View all digital editions


Bio360 Expo

Feb 08 2023 Nantes, France

Oceanology International

Feb 14 2023 San Diego, CA, USA

Global Excavation Safety Conference

Feb 14 2023 Tampa, FL, USA

Safety, Health & Wellbeing LIVE

Feb 14 2023 Manchester, UK

View all events