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Visualizing the Flow of Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in the U.S.



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Visualizing the Flow of Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in the U.S.

Visualizing the Flow of Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in the U.S.

This was originally posted on the Decarbonization Channel. Subscribe to the free mailing list to be the first to see graphics related to decarbonization with a focus on the U.S. energy sector.

In 2021, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the generation and consumption of energy reached 4.9 billion tonnes.

To better understand how various energy sources and their end-uses contribute to carbon emissions, this graphic visualizes the flow of energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. using carbon flow charts by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

What are Energy-Related CO2 Emissions?

Energy-related CO2 emissions refer to the release of carbon dioxide as a result of the combustion of fuels to produce energy. They arise through the direct use of fossil fuels for transport, heating, or industrial needs, as well as the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation.

To provide some context, non-energy-related CO2 emissions are those that result from industrial chemical reactions, deforestation, and agricultural activities.

As the largest contributor to carbon emissions, however, energy-related CO2 emissions account for approximately 85% of all emissions in the U.S. which we will now explore in more detail.

U.S. Energy-Related CO2 Emissions in 2021

Followed by a pandemic-driven decline in 2020, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. increased by 325 million tonnes in 2021, marking the largest-ever annual increase.

Energy SourceCO2 emissions in million tonnes, 2021% of total energy-related emissions
Natural Gas1,63733.7%
Solar, Wind, Nuclear, Hydro, and Biomass00%

When we follow the CO2 emissions from the above fossil fuels to their end uses, transportation and electricity generation stand out as the biggest contributors.

In 2021, these two sectors accounted for more than 68% of all energy-related emissions in the country, roughly emitting 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2.

End-Uses CO2 emissions in million tonnes, 2021% of total energy-related emissions
Electricity Generation1,53731.6%
Industrial Uses96519.8%
Residential Uses3216.6%
Commercial Uses2394.9%

When it comes to transportation, petroleum accounted for 97% of emissions, largely due to motor gasoline and diesel consumption. On the other hand, coal and natural gas made up 99% of CO2 emissions related to electricity generation.

Due to its high carbon intensity, coal’s contribution to power sector emissions may also be of particular interest. As the share of coal rose from 20% to 23% in the U.S. electricity mix in 2021, electricity emissions from coal also increased for the first time since 2014.

Naturally, this shift raised the overall energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021. It also caused a 4% hike in the carbon intensity of the country’s electricity.

Lowering Emissions

To avoid the impacts of climate change, many countries and companies are working towards decarbonization across all sectors, which can largely be facilitated by reductions in energy-related carbon emissions.

Accounting for nearly 70% of all energy-related CO2 emissions, transportation and utilities can be important pillars in these efforts.

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Understanding the Global Supply of Water

How much water do we have, and which countries use the most? This visual breaks down global water distribution and withdrawals by countries.



Global water distribution

Understanding the Global Supply of Water

As the world’s population and its agricultural needs have grown, so too has the demand for water, putting the world’s supply of water under the microscope.

A century ago, freshwater consumption was six times lower than in modern times. This increase in demand and usage has resulted in rising stress on freshwater resources and further depletion of reservoirs.

This graphic by Chesca Kirkland uses insights from Our World in Data to break down water supply and also withdrawals per capita. The latter measures the quantity of water taken from both groundwater and freshwater sources for agricultural, industrial, or domestic use.

How Much Water Do We Have?

Many people know that more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. That’s 326 million trillion gallons of water, yet humanity still faces a tight supply. Why is that?

It’s because 97% of this water is saline and unfit for consumption. Of the remaining 3% of freshwater, about two-thirds are locked away in the form of snow, glaciers, and polar ice caps. Meanwhile, just under a third of freshwater is found in fast-depleting groundwater resources.

That leaves just 1% of global freshwater as “easily” sourced supply from rainfall as well as freshwater reservoirs including rivers and lakes.

Per Capita Water Withdrawals

Any look at a world map of rivers and lakes will reveal that fresh water distribution is highly uneven across different regions of the world.

Yet developed and developing countries alike require a lot of water for both commercial and personal use. Agriculture use alone accounts for an estimated 70% of the world’s available freshwater.

Below we can see how water withdrawals per capita have grown over the past decades, using the latest available data from each.

Many of the countries with the largest water withdrawals per capita are located in the arid deserts of Central Asia, including top-ranked Turkmenistan at 5,753 cubic meters of annual water withdrawals per person in 2005.

And for developing countries with high water usage, from Turkmenistan to Guyana, most of their water withdrawals are for agriculture. For example, an estimated 95% of available water in Turkmenistan goes towards agriculture.

Developed nations like Finland, New Zealand and the U.S. also withdraw tons of water, at more than 1,000 cubic meters annually per person, but their uses are notably different. In the United States, for example, 41% of water withdrawals in 2015 went to thermoelectric power generation, while 37% went towards irrigation and livestock. For Finland, on the other hand, 80% of water was used for industrial production.

Most of the countries with lower water withdrawals per capita, meanwhile, are concentrated in Africa. They include very populated countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, which both withdrew around 75 cubic meters of water per person in 2015 and 2010 respectively. This also highlights the continent’s water accessibility and infrastructure issues.

Bridging the Water Inequity Gap

Over the years, various initiatives have emerged to mitigate the world’s water inequality gap.

Efforts include promoting water conservation practices, investing in efficient irrigation systems, and enhancing water infrastructure in regions most affected by scarcity.

Some nations in arid climates with coastal access, such as Saudi Arabia, are also converting ocean salt water to fresh water through desalination plants.

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