G20 Per Capita Coal Power Emissions 2023

Australia and South Korea retain their positions as G20's top polluters.

Rini Sucahyo

Asia Communications Manager

Ardhi Arsala Rahmani

Asia Communications Officer

5 September 2023 | 9 min read


This analysis looks into the coal emissions of the G20 on a per capita basis,  using data from Ember’s Global Electricity Review 2023, generation data from Electricity Data Explorer and annual population data from the United Nations.

Executive summary

Australia, South Korea are G20's top coal polluters per capita

More countries are seeing decreasing per capita coal emissions as they shift towards clean power, but coal pollution remains an issue.

New analysis by energy think tank Ember finds that per capita coal power pollution in more than half of the G20 economies are declining. However, despite continued decline, the top two coal polluters — Australia and South Korea — are still far ahead; a position they have held since 2020.

This showcases the pace of clean transition, which is one of the key drivers to phase down coal, is not fast enough. Coal reliance continues in the group’s major economies, increasing in countries such as China which falls in third place for per capita coal emissions.

  • 01

    Top two coal polluters, each emit more than triple the world average

    Australia and South Korea are on average the G20’s top two coal polluters, each emitting three times more coal emissions per capita than the average person in the world. Although they have also had their coal emissions per capita declining, they are still far ahead as top two.

  • 02

    12 out of 20 G20 economies saw declining per capita coal emissions since 2015

    Over half of the world’s largest economies have seen coal emissions per capita declining as a result of policies that ramp up renewables. But emissions in some emerging economies were still increasing in 2022.

  • 03

    Pace of clean transition isn’t fast enough

    The speed of clean transition is not fast enough to help drive fossil phasedown and keep 1.5C within limit. Top polluters such as Australia and South Korea decreased their per capita coal emissions by 26% and 10% respectively since 2015. But, as their starting point was far ahead, they still lead in coal pollution by more than three times the world average.

The G20 accounts for 80% of global emissions. Within the group, however, an individual’s coal emissions in 2022 were notably higher, with per capita figures reaching 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide, compared to the global average of 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide. With the nearing deadline to limit rise in global temperatures to 1.5C, G20 countries must be united in their efforts to triple renewables and plan for rapid and deep cuts in coal power generation.

China and India are often blamed as the world’s big coal power polluters. But when you take population into account, South Korea and Australia were the worst polluters still in 2022. As mature economies, they should be scaling up renewable electricity ambitiously and confidently enough to enable coal to be phased out by 2030.

Dave Jones Global Insights Lead, Ember

India, as the host of the G20 summit, has the opportunity to assume climate leadership in the G20 and hold the bloc accountable. India's plans to ramp up renewable energy seem to align well with the COP28 president's call for tripling renewables by 2030. India's early backing to this call can not only influence the G20 into action but also ensure that the developed countries bring their per capita emissions down.

Aditya Lolla Asia Programme Lead, Ember

Introduction: Why G20 matters

G20 holds the key in keeping 1.5C within reach

The G20 could make or break global efforts to accelerate clean power.

The G20 has become a focal point for global efforts to advance clean power transition and reduce carbon emissions. Accounting for 85% of the global GDP and contributing to 80% of the world’s power sector emissions, the G20 plays a crucial role to lead this transition.

Around 36% of global electricity was generated from coal in 2022, producing 8,367 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Calculated on a per capita basis, this means that the average person worldwide emitted around 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal power in 2022. 

In addition to comparing countries on their share of coal power and total power sector emissions, it is a helpful metric to consider emissions on a per capita basis to compensate for large differences in population size and electricity demand.

Ember data shows that G20 countries (excluding the EU as a region) emit 1.6 tonnes of coal power emissions per capita, exceeding the world average of 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Yet the G20 countries remain divided in their deliberations on the call to triple renewables and have failed to come to a consensus.

Amid controversies, 75 nations are showing commitment by either phasing out coal or not building new coal plants without carbon capture. However, challenges remain, as seven G20 nations—Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, and the United States—haven’t yet unveiled their coal phase-down strategies.

Highlighted by an increasingly extreme climate, the urgency to ensure a global temperature rise well below 1.5C is clearer than ever. As the world’s major economies and top carbon emitters, decisions the G20 states make on clean transition will have lasting implications. And wider acceleration of renewables within the G20 will help drive this.

Ranked: G20 per capita emissions

Emissions per capita in Australia and South Korea still far ahead

Each of the top two polluters emit more than triple the 2022 global average, highlighting the urgency for faster clean transition.

In 2022, per capita emissions from coal power in all G20 countries combined was 1.6  tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is 54% more than the global average in the rest of the world which stood at 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Australia and South Korea particularly stood out as the top two coal polluters per-capita among the G20, an unchanged status since 2020. They each emit over three times the global average and more than twice the G20 average, surpassing even China, the US, and Japan.

Australia remained the highest in terms of per capita coal power emissions of all G20 countries despite recent uptick in wind and solar power. Australia has twice the electricity use per capita of China, and still 47% of its electricity in 2022 was from coal power. However, solar and wind power have been growing: their share of electricity rose from 7% in 2015 to almost 26% in 2022, which was the main reason for the fall in share of coal from 64% to 48%. At the same time, electricity use per capita was broadly unchanged. This means per capita coal power emissions fell by 26% from 2015 to 2022. 

In 2022, coal power emissions per capita fell by about 5%, compared to 2021, as coal generation fell by 8 TWh. This was caused by a rise in solar, wind and gas generation, even as electricity demand rose by more than 2%.

In South Korea, the  share of wind and solar was only 1% of electricity in 2015, and it has grown fivefold since then to more than 5% in 2022. Yet South Korea’s solar and wind share is still well below the global average of 12%, and their electricity is still 34% powered by coal. This has led them to emit more than three metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per individual, which also amounts to approximately three times the global average. This is despite their per capita coal emissions having dropped by 10% in seven years between 2015 to 2022.


G20’s crucial role in tripling renewables by 2030

Opportunity for G20 to take centre stage on an ambitious global renewables goal, leading to an accelerated transition to clean power.

The G20 nations are at a critical juncture to show leadership and drive global actions to end fossil fuels and usher in an era of clean power. As the world’s largest economies, the G20 has the opportunity to prepare the scene at the G20 Summit for determined actions:

  • 01

    Triple renewables by 2030

    Set and commit to higher renewable targets. Tripling global renewable capacity by 2030 is priority number one to keep 1.5C within reach.

  • 02

    Plan for a coal power phase-down

    G20 countries must live up to their COP26 pledge to phase down coal power by aligning system-wide plans, clear and enabling policies, financial mechanisms and global partnerships.

Investing in renewables, rather than persisting with coal dependency, brings multiple benefits. Renewables provide homegrown clean power, curb emissions, bolster energy security and spur economic growth through innovation and job creation.

Supporting Material


Emissions per capita calculations

Viewing emissions that are averaged over population size in each country helps to assess the degree of coal pollution individuals are responsible for. For this report, we calculate coal power emissions using the IPCC AR5 midpoint lifecycle emissions factor of 820gCO2eqkWh-1, multiplying it by electricity generation. In real terms this figure is known to be an underestimate, but allows comparability between countries and does not significantly impact the rankings in this report.

Per capita values were calculated using annual population data from the United Nations. Total coal emissions generated in a country or region were divided by the population data for a given year. The analysis excludes G20 countries without coal generation (i.e. Saudi Arabia).

Data set

The data set includes the calculated per capita coal emissions of all G20 countries included in this analysis, as well as the world average numbers. You can access the data set here. For the raw data of coal generation, please refer to our Electricity Data Explorer, or download the data.