U.S. emissions rose in 2014 but lagged pace of economic growth 

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States rose again last year as the nation’s economy grew and are expected to do so again this year and next, the Department of Energy’s statistical arm said today.

But the analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows economic growth is being decoupled from emissions, as industrial output outpaces tons of CO2 emitted by fossil fuel combustion.

CO2 emissions rose 0.7 percent in 2014 compared with 2013, but the economy expanded 2.7 percent last year, the report says. This compares to 2013, which saw emissions rise 2.5 percent as the economy grew 2.2 percent.

The carbon increase kept pace with population growth last year, but energy intensity and carbon intensity both improved, EIA said, a positive sign for those concerned about climate change.

Energy intensity measures energy used per unit of gross domestic product, while carbon intensity measures emissions per unit of energy consumed.

The U.S. economy has improved its carbon intensity in the last decade, and last year was no exception. In 2013 and 2014, carbon intensity tightened by 0.4 percent. That improvement is not as robust as the 0.9 percent improvement the economy has averaged over the last decade, but EIA analyst Perry Lindstrom said the economy was still on a trajectory to decouple economic activity from CO2.

That trajectory should continue this year, he said, with economic growth projected to grow more than 2 percent while carbon emissions rise 0.1 percent.

“So it means that we are reducing that ratio quite a bit over that time period,” he said.

EIA projects that even without new policies like U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan — aimed at curbing heat-trapping emissions from power plants — U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions will be flat for the next 25 years and below where they were in 2005 as coal use generally declines.

The Obama administration has committed the United States to cut its emissions between 26 and 28 percent compared with that year by 2025 — a target that relies on new emissions cuts from regulation.