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Iran Ranks Among World's Top Polluting Nations

March 15, 2023

Iran’s recent ranking by international watchdog groups as the sixth-largest carbon-emitting country in the world is striking, as the country is relatively small compared to the other nine developing or industrialized nations that also appear in the top ten. In fact, in terms of carbon emission intensity, which measures the ratio of carbon emissions to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Iran emits more pollutants than any of the other countries that appear in the top ten.  

Every year, various international organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank monitor carbon emissions by individual countries as part of the global campaign to combat climate change. Air pollution is not just a global statistic, but also a local issue affecting millions of urban-dwelling Iranians who suffer the adverse health effects of poor air quality. Recent lists of top ten polluting countries in the world show Iran is the sixth-largest polluter in the world (see Chart 1). 





Iran is listed alongside the world’s most industrialized nations (e.g. the US, Japan, and Germany) as well as the most populous countries (e.g. China and India), as well as the largest country, Russia. Iran also has the smallest economy among these ten countries in terms of GDP.





The ‘carbon emission intensity’ indicator measures the millions of tons of carbon emitted to generate $1 billion of GDP, as shown in Chart 3. When this indicator is applied, Iran’s carbon output is much higher than that of any other nation in the top ten. (Globally, Iran still ranks behind countries like Venezuela and Oman, which outrank it in terms of carbon emission intensity.)





Iran’s economy is 50 times smaller than China’s in terms of GDP, but its ‘carbon emission intensity’ is three times higher.  Outdated industrial technologies, poor-quality car engines, gas flaring and the lack of environmentally protective standards all contribute to Iran’s poor performance in this area. 

Iran’s notoriety as one of the world’s biggest polluters is exacerbated by the government’s lack of management skills, financial contributions or apparent willingness to implement climate-friendly reforms. Iran has, since 2016, been a signatory of the Paris Agreement, a treaty within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which aims to reduce global emissions and counter climate change, but the Iranian government has failed to ratify it. Climate Action Tracker, a non-profit climate science and policy institute based in Germany, rates Iran’s official “policies and action” taken to counter climate change, as well as its climate change control targets, as “Critically Insufficient.” 

The effects of the government’s lackadaisical approach to the country’s poor environmental performance may also bring economic repercussions. Out of the ten countries with the highest carbon emissions in the world, Iran is the only nation that lacks an official “Net Zero Target”, a parameter global investors and financial institutions consider for their investment assessments.