Greenhouse gas emissions from the US energy sector are likely to have risen by as much 2% in 2013, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The EIA only recently revealed that national energy-related carbon emissions had reached their lowest point for nearly two decades in 2012, saying the improvement was largely driven by the substitution of natural gas – which is slightly less carbon intensive – for coal in electricity production.
However, a doubling of gas prices and an increase in energy consumption allowed coal to recover some of its market share. In October, coal provided around 39% of North America’s electricity, while only 28% came from natural gas, the new figures show.
As a result, some 5.38 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air in 2013, up from 5.27 billion tons emitted in 2012.
The government has committed to cutting emissions 17% on 2005 levels by 2020, and even with last year’s step backwards, the US is over half way towards achieving this target. However the EIA expect US coal production to increase by 36m short tons in 2014.
Furthermore, even when natural gas displaces coal in US energy generation, this same coal has still been mined and burnt elsewhere. The EIA estimated that 118m short tons of coal would be exported to other countries in 2013, with an extra 105m short tons to be shipped abroad in 2014.
Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow in October, Róisín Moriarty, senior research associate at the Global Carbon Project, said that fuel exported and burnt elsewhere can be even more environmentally damaging.
“If that coal is exported to a country with less efficient methods of producing electricity from coal than those currently used in the US then more coal needs to be burnt to produce the equivalent amount of electricity and this means an increase in associated emissions”, she said.
In November, climate scientists estimated that 2013 would prove to be a record year for energy-related carbon emissions globally. The Global Carbon Budget report estimated that emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal reached 36 billion tonnes last year – a 2.1% rise from 2012.
While China contributed over a quarter of the total (27%), it matched the EU (10%) when it came to emissions per capita. The US (14%) and India (6%) also made large contributions in absolute terms.