US GHG emissions at 20-year low, but there’s little to celebrate
According to figures released last week by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the country’s energy-related carbon emissions hit a 20-year low during the first quarter of the year.
The report reveals that CO2 emissions from energy consumption were 1.34 billion tonnes over the first three months of the year, a drop of nearly eight percent on 1Q 2011 and the lowest level of US of carbon emissions in the first quarter since 1992.
The EIA attributes the rapid decline in emissions to a mild winter, reduced demand for vehicular fuel, and the scaling back of coal-fired power in favor of new gas-fired capacity.
It said that quarterly carbon emissions from coal were down 18 percent year-on-year to 387 million metric tonnes – the lowest first quarter level since 1983 and the lowest level for any quarter since the second quarter of 1986. The trend is set to continue with the EIA reporting last month that up to 27-GW of coal-fired capacity could be retired by 2016.
The figures will be seized upon by supporters of the gas industry, who argue that America's shale gas boom has delivered environmental benefits by replacing more carbon-intensive coal-fired power. Climate scientists and green groups, however, remain deeply concerned that new investment in gas infrastructure, rather than renewable energy capacity, will lock the US into relatively high levels of emissions for decades to come.
Late last month the International Energy Agency (IEA) released new data showing that global coal production rose by 6.6 percent last year, while natural gas production rose two percent and oil production climbed one percent.
"While coal production only increased by 0.8 percent in OECD member countries, non-OECD production climbed by nine percent, with China taking over from Japan as the world's largest importer, and Indonesia becoming the world's largest exporter, surpassing Australia," the IEA stated.
The report also revealed that renewable energy's share of total energy supplies rose to 8.2 percent in OECD countries last year, an increase on the 7.8 percent recorded in 2010.