What’s Behind the ‘Good News’ Declines in U.S. CO2 Emissions?
Six key factors, combined with the impacts of a prolonged economic slowdown, have led U.S. CO2 emissions to fall to 1996 levels, making significant progress toward the long-abandoned Kyoto Protocol 1990 target. Is it conceivable that U.S. CO2 emissions may actually have peaked?
U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have fallen nearly 12 percent over the past five years, and are currently down to 1996 levels. While some reduction is attributable to the economic downturn between 2008 and 2010, the continuing decline up to present suggests that additional and more persistent factors are at work.
A close examination of energy use in different sectors suggests that the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation has probably been the single largest contributor to the decline, but a combination of many other factors accounts for the majority of reductions. These include people driving less and flying less, using less electricity (particularly for industrial activities), driving more fuel-efficient cars, and a large increase in the use of wind power for electricity. Some of those factors also stem from the economic slowdown, but all combined, these factors have produced a dramatic and largely unexpected decline in U.S. CO2 emissions.