CO2 released at lowest levels in 25 years

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 14, 2016

The release of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the first half of this year sank to their lowest level since 1991, the Energy Information Administration said yesterday.

The agency attributed the decline to a warm winter, slumping use of coal-fired electricity, and strong growth in renewable and hydroelectric power. It was the first time in 25 years that emissions during the first six months of any year were that low.

Overall energy use fell 2 percent in the first half of 2016 compared with the same period last year, according to EIA. Coal consumption, in particular, saw steep declines by dropping 18 percent, while natural gas use dipped just 1 percent, versus 2015 rates.

“The decrease was most notable in the residential and electric power sectors,” EIA said. Energy use shrank 9 and 3 percent, respectively, in those portions of the economy.

The EIA said the use of renewables rose 9 percent. Nearly half of that increase was due to wind energy, roughly a third from hydroelectricity and more than 10 percent from solar power.

In a separate report released in September, EIA analysts predicted carbon emissions for 2016 will fall to their lowest level since 1992 — three years before the United Nations held the first of its 21 global summits on climate change, called the Conference of the Parties.

The agency’s statement is the latest in a series of signals, dating back to 2014, that the world’s nations have begun to separate economic growth and carbon emissions.

Historically, emissions and economic growth have moved in lockstep, with greenhouse gases dipping during recessions and climbing during boom times. The International Energy Agency first said two years ago that global energy-sector emissions had declined while the world expanded economically, though critics point out that the measurement excludes emissions from other sources, such as agriculture (ClimateWire, March 17).

“Today’s report is another example of the great benefits that come from clean-burning natural gas,” Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement.

In the run-up to the Paris climate accords and the months after, the trade group has organized a campaign touting the benefits of natural gas (E&E Daily, Jan. 6).

Durbin was the CEO of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry association that API took over last year.

In its jobs report issued Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the mining sector held steady in September at about 630,000 workers nationwide. The mining sector, which covers workers in the coal, oil and gas trades, has lost 220,000 jobs since peaking in September 2014.

The BLS stopped tracking “green jobs” in 2013 due to across-the-board cuts to federal spending known as sequestration.