U.S. Agency Projects Widening Gap Between U.S. Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels and Reduction Commitments

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration today (23 January 2011) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012, with projections of U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuel use through 2035.  EIA projects that U.S. emissions in 2020 will be 7.5% below 2005 levels, far short of the 17% reduction the U.S. committed to in January 2010 under the Copenhagen Accord of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) today (23 January 2011) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO2012)Early Release Report, with projections of U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuel use through 2035. The EIA projects that U.S. emissions in 2020 will be 7.5% below 2005 levels, far short of the 17% reduction the U.S. committed to in January 2010 under the Copenhagen Accord of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In a 28 January 2010 letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, submitted the following U.S. emissions reduction target for 2020 under the Copenhagen Accord:

"In the range of 17% [below 2005 levels], in conformity with anticipated U.S. energy and climate legislation, recognizing that the final target will be reported to the Secretariat in light of enacted legislation."

The commitment noted that the "pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, in line with the goal to reduce emissions 83% by 2050."

According to the AEO2012 Early Release Report, most of the decline in U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuels below 2005 levels already has occurred, largely driven by the recession. Emissions dropped from 5,996 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCe) in 2005 to an estimated 5,634 MMTCe in 2011 (a 362 MMTCe decline).  Emissions are projected to continue falling another 200 MMTCe to 5,434 MMTCe by 2015. At 9.4% below 2005 levels, that will end the decline. 

After 2015, emissions are projected to slowly and steadily rise. From 5,434 MMTCe in 2015, they may reach 5,449 MMTCe by 2020 and 5,695 MMTCe by 2030. That would put emissions in 2030 at roughly 5% below 2005 levels, a long way from the 42% cut below 2005 levels cited by the U.S. in its submission under the Copenhagen Accord. Assuming the projected emission levels in 2035 (3% below 2005 levels) and their upward trajectory, the U.S. objective of reducing emissions 83% below 2005 levels by 2050 clearly would be unattainable.

Projected Emissions Reflect Absence of Coherent Plan to Reduce Emissions

On 9 July 2009, the U.S. joined the other members of the Major Economies Forum in L'Aquila, Italy, in a declaration  committing the U.S. and other participants to prepare low-carbon action plans. Two months later, in testimony on 10 September 2009, Todd Stern told the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming that “all countries, developed and developing, major and lesser, must, with assistance where needed, develop low-carbon growth plans to steer the course of their future development and put the world on the path to a low-carbon global economy.

The following year, in 2010, the need for developed countries to generate such plans was recognized formally under the UNFCCC. The 16th annual meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP-16) agreed in Cancun, Mexico, that “a low-carbon development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development and that “developed countries should develop low-carbon development strategies or plans.”

Todd Stern said in a press statement at the conclusion of COP-16 (on 9 December 2010), the parties must “clearly lay out the elements of transparency – including International Consultations and Analysis – that will provide us confidence that we are all carrying out, carrying through on our undertakings, and that will help gauge our progress in our collective worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Despite these statements, the U.S. has no coherent national plan for driving down carbon emissions.  Meanwhile, as we discuss in Planning Development in a Carbon Constrained World (5 Dec 2011), other countries have pushed well ahead of the U.S. with low-carbon development plans that not-only seek to sharply lower emissions but also prepare for the emerging impacts of climate change. 

Without a strategy, the U.S. remains perilously dependent on the fuels of the last century and is feeding climate disruption for which it is dangerously unprepared.

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