The Big Picture on Reducing CO2 Emissions
Posted January 11, 2019
Before getting into a new report showing an uptick in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions last year, let’s make sure we keep an eye on the big picture as it concerns U.S. CO2. These points:
- U.S. CO2 emissions have fallen to their lowest level in a generation – even as global emissions have risen 50 percent since 1990. The leading reason for this favorable trendline is increased use of natural gas in power generation.
- Nine times this century the U.S. has reduced annual emissions more than any other nation, with clean natural gas playing a key role.
- As natural gas use in power generation increased, U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions decreased 8 percent between 2010 and 2017.
Now, into that context comes a preliminary estimate from the Rhodium Group that final 2018 data will show CO2 increased 3.4 percent last year. The estimate is consistent with a forecast in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Short-Term Energy Outlook.
Significantly, both EIA and Rhodium expect declining CO2 emissions will resume this year. EIA expects emissions to decline 1.2 percent in 2019. In other words, it appears 2018 will prove to have been a blip in the overall downward trend. API President and CEO Mike Sommers, during a press briefing this week:
“It’s important that we recognize the broader trend here. … [E]missions will continue to trend downward in 2019, even as our industry continues to meet record consumer demand and deliver for American families.”
Clean natural gas is integral to reaching America’s emissions-reduction and climate goals. Natural gas abundance and its environmental performance helped make it the leading fuel for power generation, responsible for 35.4 percent of that generation through the first nine months of 2018 (compared to 27.2 percent for coal), according to EIA.
The Rhodium Group report notes:
Natural gas not only replaced most of the lost coal generation but also fed the vast majority of the load growth last year. Between January and October, US power companies added a greater share of gas capacity than the share of retired coal capacity, and twice as much gas went online as combined wind and solar capacity additions (including distributed solar) during that period. Natural gas-fired generation increased by 166 million kWh during the first ten months of the year. That’s three times the decline in coal generation and four times the combined growth of wind and solar.”
The fact is that since 2005, natural gas has been responsible for more CO2 emissions reductions in electricity generation than renewables, according to EIA:
Again, reducing CO2 emissions is a big part of U.S. progress toward climate goals. America leads the world in reducing CO2 largely because of clean natural gas. In harnessing the country’s vast natural gas reserves, our industry is a key contributor toward the nation’s climate progress. Sommers:
“This industry takes the climate issue seriously. We believe that the risks of climate change are real. Industrial activity around the globe impacts the climate. We also believe that this industry is meeting the climate challenge head-on. …
“In our view consumers are really demanding two big things: First of all they’re demanding reliable and affordable energy, but second of all they’re demanding energy that’s produced in environmentally safe [ways]. We’re accomplishing both as an industry, and that’s something that this country and this industry should be proud of.”
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.