Quantcast

U.S. Carbon Emissions Rise Despite Efforts to Combat Climate Change

Climate

In a troubling sign, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released today show that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 2.5 percent in 2013, from 5,267 million metric tons in 2012 to 5,396 million metric tons in 2013. This increase comes after two years of declining emissions. Market trends on their own are clearly insufficient to achieve sustained, sharp reductions in heat-trapping emissions: we need strong policies that drive renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Colder weather, which increased the demand for oil and natural gas to heat homes, drove an increase in residential sector emissions. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Why did CO2 emissions rise in 2013?

EIA cites two major reasons emissions rose in 2013:

  • Colder weather, which increased the demand for oil and natural gas to heat homes and drove an increase in residential sector emissions (nearly half of the total emissions increase in 2013). This also affected commercial sector emissions.
  • More coal-fired electricity generation. Higher natural gas prices in 2013 resulted in a small shift back from natural gas to coal-fired generation. The average price of natural gas for electricity generators rose from $3.54 per million Btu in 2012 to $4.49 per million Btu in 2013. Natural gas generation fell 10 percent while coal-fired generation increased 4.8 percent.

What does this increase mean for future emissions?

While emission levels can change from year to year for a variety of reasons, what’s clear is that the overall trend we’re observing is great cause for concern. Emissions in 2013 were just 10 percent below 2005 levels. We may still find ways to reduce U.S. emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, as the Obama Administration pledged in 2009 in Copenhagen.

But we are far from the trajectory we need to be on to deliver 80 percent or greater emissions reductions by 2050, which is necessary to meet climate goals. What’s more, it’s clear that relying on low natural gas prices as the climate solution in the power sector is very risky. Natural gas prices are volatile. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, albeit a cleaner burning one, and it comes with climate, health, environmental and economic risks. From a climate perspective, we need policies that deliver more emissions reductions, much faster. Every year we delay matters as carbon emissions build up in the atmosphere, fueling costly climate impacts.

The Clean Power Plan can help cut power sector emissions

UCS has just released a new analysis that shows that the Clean Power Plan (CPP) could help cut power sector emissions by at least 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Strengthening the renewable energy provisions of the CPP can quadruple the amount of renewable energy by 2030, reducing our dependence on fossil-fired generation and driving down emissions.

A strengthened CPP is an important—even historic—first step toward a transition to a low carbon economy. Send your comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Dec. 1 to ensure that the plan delivers deep emissions reductions. Ultimately, we’ll need more, including action from Congress to set a carbon price and limit economy-wide emissions.

Rachel Cleetus is an expert on the design and economic evaluation of climate and energy policies, as well as the costs of climate change. She holds a Ph.D. in economics.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Studies Confirm Humans Play Significant Role in Altering Climate

MUST-SEE: Stephen Colbert and Neil Young Sing ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up?’

Pentagon Declares War on Climate Change

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Emily Deanne

Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.

Read More Show Less
Kokia drynarioides, commonly known as Hawaiian tree cotton, is a critically endangered species of flowering plant that is endemic to the Big Island of Hawaii. David Eickhoff / Wikipedia

By Lorraine Chow

Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Frederick Bass / Getty Images

States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of lava flows from the eruption of volcano Kilauea on Hawaii, May 2018. Frizi / iStock / Getty Images

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
A couple works in their organic garden. kupicoo / E+ / Getty Images

By Kristin Ohlson

From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A competitor in action during the Drambuie World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland on April 9, 2001. Michael Steele / Allsport / Getty Images

Greenland is open for business, but it's not for sale, Greenland's foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger told Reuters after hearing that President Donald Trump asked his advisers about the feasibility of buying the world's largest island.

Read More Show Less
AFP / Getty Images / S. Platt

Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.

Read More Show Less
Newly established oil palm plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay

By Hans Nicholas Jong

Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.

It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."

Read More Show Less