Emissions by End-Use: What Activities Create the Most Emissions?

14 minute read

Updated on Thu Mar 04 2021

In the last chapter we categorised emissions based on which sector they came from. There are other ways of looking at emissions, including by end-use or activity. This breaks down emissions within each sector to look at the final product or activity emissions are used for.

Breakdown of end uses within the energy sector

Why is it useful to categorise emissions by end use?

Categorising emissions by end-use gives us a better understanding of the particular activities or products that are responsible for causing emissions.

This is useful for working out how to reduce them. For example, we will see that buildings account for 17.7% of energy emissions. This information may lead governments to improve insulation so that less energy is wasted by inefficient heating and cooling of these buildings.

Which products cause the most emissions?

Emissions from different sectors and end uses

The right-hand column of the chart shows emissions by end-use activities. This redistributes emissions from the sector they are produced in, and instead assigns them to their final uses.

This particularly makes a difference for the energy sector, which produces energy for a wide range of end uses. Responsibility for emissions can be reallocated from the energy supply sector to the activities or products that use that energy.

An example is emissions from the use of fuels to produce heat or electricity for houses and apartments. This is produced by the energy sector, but used within buildings.

Which end uses/activities are the worst for the planet?

Activities on roads account for 11.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This includes emissions from laying the roads and emissions from vehicles that travel on these roads, including cars, trucks, and buses.

It also includes emissions from producing and trading these vehicles.

Emissions from roads

The buildings we live and work in account for even more, releasing 17.7% of global CO₂e emissions. This includes the electricity used in lighting, appliance use (anything plugged into a socket, from toasters to hairdryers), refrigeration and air conditioning, as well as the heat to warm our houses and workplaces and any direct fuel use such as gas.

When it comes to industry, the iron and steel industry is one of the largest energy-consuming industries in the world, accounting for 7.2% of greenhouse gas emissions.

CO₂ is emitted at various points when making steel, including when fuels are burnt on-site (70%), and the indirect emissions from electricity and heat used during the production process (30%).

Global demand for steel is still increasing, so without intervention, this sector may produce even more greenhouse gas in the future.

Earthly making steel

What is a “supply chain” and why are they important?

All the stages involved in the creation of a particular product - getting the resources, producing it, transporting it, and using and disposing of it - are collectively referred to as the supply chain.

When we categorise greenhouse gas emissions by end use, the emissions from each stage of the supply chain count towards the emissions caused by the final end product.

Let’s have a look at what this means in the food supply chain and the fashion supply chain.

The food supply chain

What percentage of greenhouse gas emissions come from today’s food supply chain?

Today's food supply chain creates approximately 13.7 billion metric tonnes of CO₂e, 26% of human greenhouse gas emissions. Each stage of the food supply chain - from farm to fork - produces greenhouse gases. And let's not forget emissions from food waste too!

Sources of greenhouse gas emissions from the different stages in the food supply chain

The land use change and farm stages dominate, representing 82% of food emissions! There are also massive differences in the greenhouse gas emissions of different foods: producing 1 kg of beef emits 60 kg of CO₂e, whereas producing 1 kg of peas emits just 1 kg of CO₂e.

Emissions from meat are higher than those of plants

What about the clothes we wear?

Emissions from lots of different sources also go into making the clothing that we wear.

What percentage of greenhouse gas emissions come from today’s fashion supply chain?

It is estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s more than the emissions produced by international flights or the shipping industry!

The reason these CO₂e emissions are so high is due to the long supply chains and energy-intensive production required in this industry.

Stages of the fashion supply chain responsible for emissions

As fast fashion becomes more prevalent, the emissions from the fashion industry continue to increase; clothing is produced on shorter time frames with new designs appearing every few weeks to satisfy demands for the latest trends. Today, the average consumer buys 60% more clothing than they did in 2003.

Earthly shopping


There are different ways of categorising greenhouse gas emissions, including by primary source and by end-use activity. It is important to know where greenhouse gas emissions are coming from so we can see where changes need to be made to best fight climate change.

We need to tackle the big emitters of greenhouse gases first (e.g energy!) and stop focusing so much on smaller sources of emissions. In the next chapter, we will look at which countries produce the most greenhouse gas emissions.

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