U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels fell 3.8% last year to the lowest level since 1994, according to a report released last week by the Energy Information Administration.
EIA, which is part of the Department of Energy, notes that U.S. output, or gross domestic product (GDP), increased by 2.8% last year, while energy consumption fell by 2.4%. The result was a 5.1% decline in energy consumption per dollar of gross domestic product, or energy intensity.
Consequently, looking just at carbon emissions and production, 2012 marks the largest annual drop in carbon emissions per GDP since 1948 when records were first kept.
Good news? Maybe, says Perry Lindstrom, the EIA analyst who prepared the report, pointing out there is a difference between a one-year decline and a trend.
The decline, he says, was caused by warmer weather for part of last year, the shift from coal to natural gas to fuel power plants, and the recession. In particular, Lindstrom says, the U.S. has still not completely returned to prerecession levels of output and energy use.
“One year is interesting but doesn’t make a trend,” he stresses. “We see coal making a comeback in 2013, and carbon emissions are likely to go up this year.”
He also notes that the annual carbon benefit attributable to the shift from coal to natural gas will not continue indefinitely, particularly if the shift slows the deployment of renewable energy sources, which generate little to no greenhouse gases.