US Experiences Unexpected Drop in Carbon Emissions

Friday, 19 Apr 2013 01:48 PM

By Melanie Batley

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Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to their lowest levels in the United States since 1994, according to a recent estimate by the government, putting America ahead of every other nation in reductions.

Experts attribute the unexpected drop to a shift away from coal to natural gas to generate electricity, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The result has been a 12 percent decrease in carbon emissions from 2005 to 2012, according to data compiled by the Energy Information Administration.

Carbon emissions account for nearly 84 percent of the greenhouse gas believed to be the main contributor to global warming.

Energy producers have been able to make the shift because new drilling technologies have opened fresh reserves of natural gas. Last year, 30 percent of power in the U.S. came from burning natural gas, up from 19 percent in 2005, according to the Journal.

While other factors such as a sluggish economy and increases in energy efficiency may have played a role in decreasing carbon emissions, many believe the shift to natural gas has been the biggest factor. Natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when used to make electricity.

“Everybody just figured that emissions were just going to continue to increase rapidly,” said Ted Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, an energy and climate think tank based in Oakland, California. “Nobody was expecting the worst recession since the Great Depression, but also no one was really expecting this remarkable shift from coal to gas either.”

Still, declines may be short-lived as natural gas prices rise and utilities increase their consumption of coal. Gas prices have risen for eight straight weeks to more than twice the price a year ago, according to the Journal.

Still, the decline in emissions has helped the U.S. improve its standing among U.N. nations that previously criticized Washington for its unwillingness to commit to reducing emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

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