A review of trends and drivers of greenhouse gas emissions by sector from 1990 to 2018

William F. Lamb*, Thomas Wiedmann, Julia Pongratz, Robbie Andrew, Monica Crippa, Jos G.J. Olivier, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Giulio Mattioli, Alaa Al Khourdajie, Jo House, Shonali Pachauri, Maria Figueroa, Yamina Saheb, Raphael Slade, Klaus Hubacek, Laixiang Sun, Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, Smail Khennas, Stephane De La Rue Du Can, Lazarus ChapunguSteven J. Davis, Igor Bashmakov, Hancheng Dai, Shobhakar Dhakal, Xianchun Tan, Yong Geng, Baihe Gu, Jan Minx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be traced to five economic sectors: energy, industry, buildings, transport and AFOLU (agriculture, forestry and other land uses). In this topical review, we synthesise the literature to explain recent trends in global and regional emissions in each of these sectors. To contextualise our review, we present estimates of GHG emissions trends by sector from 1990 to 2018, describing the major sources of emissions growth, stability and decline across ten global regions. Overall, the literature and data emphasise that progress towards reducing GHG emissions has been limited. The prominent global pattern is a continuation of underlying drivers with few signs of emerging limits to demand, nor of a deep shift towards the delivery of low and zero carbon services across sectors. We observe a moderate decarbonisation of energy systems in Europe and North America, driven by fuel switching and the increasing penetration of renewables. By contrast, in rapidly industrialising regions, fossil-based energy systems have continuously expanded, only very recently slowing down in their growth. Strong demand for materials, floor area, energy services and travel have driven emissions growth in the industry, buildings and transport sectors, particularly in Eastern Asia, Southern Asia and South-East Asia. An expansion of agriculture into carbon-dense tropical forest areas has driven recent increases in AFOLU emissions in Latin America, South-East Asia and Africa. Identifying, understanding, and tackling the most persistent and climate-damaging trends across sectors is a fundamental concern for research and policy as humanity treads deeper into the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish
Article number073005
Number of pages31
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2021


  • buildings
  • energy systems
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • industry
  • transport
  • trends and drivers

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