Carbon Dioxide Emissions Down 3.8 Percent in 2012, Lowest Level Since 1994, EIA Says

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By Andrew Childers and Ari Natter  

Oct. 21 -- U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption and production declined 3.8 percent in 2012, reaching their lowest level since 1994, the Energy Information Administration said in a report released Oct. 21.

Annual carbon dioxide emissions associated with the energy sector totaled 5,290 million metric tons in 2012, a decrease from 5,498 million metric tons in 2011, and a 12 percent decrease from a peak of 6,023 million metric tons in 2007, according to the EIA.

The decline came even as the U.S. economy grew by 2.8 percent in 2012, the EIA said in its report “U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2012.” That was the largest emissions decline recorded in a year with positive population growth as well, the agency said.

Reduced energy demand in 2012 meant the overall carbon intensity of the economy, expressed in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product, declined 6.5 percent that year, the EIA said. That is the largest annual drop observed since the agency began keeping records in 1949. Only 1952 and 1981 have recorded drops in the economy's carbon intensity greater than 5 percent, the agency said.

Housing, Transportation Lead Declines

Half the overall decline in energy demand came from the residential sector, the report said. A mild first quarter in 2012 reduced the demand for home heating. By the end of March, cumulative heating degree days were approximately 19 percent below the 10-year norm and 22 percent below 2011 levels. Residential demand for electricity declined overall in 2012 even though cooling degree days were up slightly from 2011 levels, the report said.

The transportation sector accounted for 22 percent of the reduction in energy demand in 2012, trailing only the residential sector, the EIA said. Vehicles traveled approximately 8,072 million miles per day in both 2011 and 2012, but more fuel-efficient vehicles helped bring down the energy demand in 2012.

Cheaper natural gas also displaced coal in the power sector, bringing down carbon dioxide emissions, the EIA said. That meant carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation declined by 3.5 percent in 2012 despite a decline in renewable energy generation, the agency said. The carbon intensity of electricity production declined by 13 percent between 2007 and 2012, preventing emissions of 314 million tons of carbon dioxide during that period, according to the agency.

The shift from coal to natural gas is responsible for nearly 60 percent of the reductions, the report said. The remainder is due to increases in renewable and nuclear power generation, it said.

However, the EIA said in its 2013-2014 U.S. winter fuels outlook energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 1.7 percent in 2013 and 0.9 percent in 2014 as rising natural gas prices drive an increase in coal generation .

According to the EIA, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have declined in five out of the last seven years.


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To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Sullivan in Washington at

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