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U.S. Carbon Emissions May Decline Almost 6% from 2008

U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels are forecast to decline by almost 6% from 2008 levels, partly because of the economic recession, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said last week.

In its October Short-Term Energy Outlook (see related story), EIA said projected coal CO2 emissions are on track to drop by slightly more than 10% this year, mostly on lower power demand. Coal accounts for 63% of the total decline in carbon emissions from fossil fuels this year versus 2008, officials said.

Natural gas emissions are forecast to decline by around 2% from last year, and petroleum emissions are seen falling more than 4% from 2008 levels, EIA said. Gas emissions make up around 7% of the projected total decline in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels; petroleum emissions make up 30% of the projected decline.

"Forecast coal, natural gas and electricity consumption in the commercial and residential sectors is also lower this year because of the weak economy, a slightly warmer winter and milder summer," EIA forecasters stated. "We expect CO2 emissions from the commercial and residential sectors to be 29 million metric tons lower in 2009, or just over 8% of the total projected reduction in CO2 emissions this year."

In related news, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported last week that the global economic recession and the resulting reduction in power demand would make reducing GHG emissions easier to accomplish if industrial nations adopted climate protection measures now.

If reduction measures were enacted, annual GHG emissions from power plants, factories and vehicles would peak at nearly 30.9 billion tons "just before" 2020, the IEA said in an updated report to United Nations (UN) climate negotiators, who met in Bangkok, Thailand last week. IEA last November had estimated GHG emissions would peak at 32.5 billion tons in 2020.

"Governments should see that if we don't make use of this very unique window of opportunity, it could cost them much more in the future," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. "The later we start, the more costly it will be and the less achievable it will be from an economic and political point of view."

Global CO2 emissions could fall at a record pace of up to 3% this year because of the recession, which has reduced the demand for power, IEA stated. The historical average is 3% annual growth in CO2 discharges.

The IEA carries out a comprehensive energy program through cooperation with 28 of the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which include the United States and Canada. Last Tuesday the IEA issued a "special early excerpt" of its World Energy Outlook 2009 for the UN meeting titled "How the Energy Sector Can Deliver on a Climate Agreement in Copenhagen."

The UN this year is attempting to replace or extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose initial phase ends in 2012. The Kyoto treaty set caps of about 5% on industrialized nations' GHG emissions from 1990 levels.

The United States by 2020 would need to reduce CO2 emissions by 18% from 2007 levels to protect the world's climate, the IEA noted. Last month the U.S. Senate launched a debate on measures to limit GHG emissions across the nation with the introduction of a bill that increases the targeted reduction for GHG to 20% by 2020 from the 17% level in a bill passed already by the House (see NGI, Oct. 5; July 6).

China, which emits the highest levels of CO2, has set domestic targets by 2020 to reduce emissions by 1 gigaton, or 26%, from 2007 levels.

"This should put China at the forefront of fighting against climate change at the global level," Birol said.

Following the talks in Bangkok, the countries are to meet for one week in November in Barcelona, Spain, before a December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. IEA officials are hoping for a climate treaty that would include financial incentives to encourage energy investments, which might include subsidies, tax breaks and an expanded carbon market, Birol said.

"If Copenhagen provides a signal that you can make better money with an investment under sustainable energy applications, such as renewables, nuclear, carbon capture storage, more sustainable cars, this would give an impetus to energy investors to invest on those fronts," he said.

IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka said the world also has "to be more open to nuclear power." The world needs 18 new nuclear power reactors every year to increase its proportion in the global energy mix to 18% by 2030, he said.

Around $10 trillion will need to be spent for energy investments over the next 20 years, and that number will increase by $500 billion for every year of delay, Tanaka said. Using more energy efficient technology would save an estimated $8.6 trillion over the 20-year period, he said.

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