U.S. Emissions Decline Attributed to Economy, Not Decrease in Coal

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: “From 2007 to 2013, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels decreased by about 11%. This decline was widely attributed to a shift from coal to natural gas in US electricity production. However, a new analysis published in the journal Nature Communications shows that, in fact, the recent economic recession accounts for the majority of the decline.”

“In the United States, coal-powered electricity went from 50% to 37% of the generation mix between 2007 and 2012, with the bulk of it replaced by natural gas, in large part due to new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and underground mapping technologies. Because this shift occurred at the same time as the reduction in emissions, many commentators linked the two.”

“From 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83% of the decrease was due to economic factors including consumption and production changes, and just 17% of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. After 2009, emissions declined by only about 1%, and this was due to a mix of all three factors.”

“The study may indicate that further increase in use of natural gas may not have major benefits for the climate. While natural gas can substitute for coal, research also shows that cheap and abundant natural gas can limit the growth of carbon neutral energy sources including solar, wind, and nuclear.”

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