CO2 Emissions Fall to 14-Year Low in 2009
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a few weeks ago that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States fell in 2009 by the largest amount ever in a single year going back to 1973 when EIA records started (data here), both in absolute terms (a decline of 405 million metric tons) and in percentage terms (a seven percent decline). The seven percent decline last year along with a three percent drop in 2008, brought annual energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. down to the lowest level in any year since 1995 (see chart above).
Amazingly, the U.S. generated fewer energy-related CO2 emissions in 2009 than in 1996, even though we produced almost 38 percent more output last year, our population has increased by almost 38 million, and our traffic volume was 22 percent higher last year than in 1996.
The EIA estimates that only about one-third of the drop in CO2 emissions in 2009 was because of the economic slowdown and the reduction in real output, and the large majority of the decline resulted from the increasing energy efficiency of the economy and the ongoing reduction in the carbon intensity of our energy usage. Therefore, even without a recession in the first half of the year, there would have been almost a five percent reduction in CO2 emissions in 2009, which still would have been one of the largest annual declines on record.
Our expanding output of domestic natural gas from shale rock, with its 45 percent lower carbon content than coal, has played a major role in reducing the carbon intensity of our overall energy supply, and helped bring down emissions last year to a 14-year low. Now that the U.S. has overtaken Russia as the world’s largest natural gas producer and our domestic production keeps setting new record highs, the significant improvements in carbon intensity and reduced emissions from using more natural gas should continue into the future.
We’ve heard a lot of negative energy-related news lately including stories about the oil spill and environmental damage in the Gulf, and the coal mining deaths in April, but there has also been some extremely positive and environmentally-friendly data released recently by the EIA about U.S. energy usage and emissions. The positive energy statistics reported in May include new information showing that: a) the overall energy efficiency of the U.S. economy reached an all-time record high in 2009, b) there was less total energy consumed in the U.S. last year than in any year since 1996, and c) energy-related CO2 emissions fell by the largest amount last year in EIA history to the lowest level since 1995.
Cross-posted at The Enterprise Blog.