Anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are known to alter hydrological cycles, disrupt marine ecosystems and species lifecycles, and cause global habitat loss. In this study, we use a comprehensive global input-output database to assess the driving forces underlying the change in global CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2010. We decompose the change in emissions for the 20 year period into six mutually exclusive causal determinants. Our assessment of trends in fuel-use reveals that a 10.8 Peta-gram (Pg) rise in emissions from 1990 to 2010 constitutes emissions from the consumption of coal (49%), petroleum (25%), natural gas (17%), and biomass (9%). We demonstrate that affluence (per-capita consumption) and population growth are outpacing any improvements in carbon efficiency in driving up emissions worldwide. Our results suggest that supply chain measures to improve technological efficiency are not sufficient to reduce emissions. To achieve significant emission savings, policy makers need to address the issue of affluence. We argue that policies to address unsustainable lifestyles and consumer behavior are largely unheard of, and governments may need to actively intervene in nonsustainable lifestyles to achieve emission reductions. The results presented in this paper are vital for informing future policy decisions for mitigating climate change.