We’re Not Doomed: US Greenhouse Gas Emissions Cut To 20-Year Low

Bill Scher

Today the EPA released its annual accounting of US greenhouse gas emissions for 2012. And it’s good news.

The highlights:

1. After increasing greenhouse gas emissions nearly every year from 1990 to 2008, emissions are down 8% since President Obama was sworn in, and down 5% from 2010 to 2012.

2. As of 2012, annual greenhouse gas emissions are at the lowest level since 1994.

3. If we keep up the pace of a 5% cut every two years, at the end of his presidency Obama will beat his 2009 pledge to have cut emissions 17% from our 2005 levels, by 1.8 percentage points.

4. If we kept up the same pace through 2030, we will have cut emissions from our 2010 level by 40%, hitting the target set by the most recent UN climate panel report necessary to avoid a climate crisis.

The icing on the cake is that we’ve put ourselves on this trajectory without congressional legislation to cap carbon emissions and before the EPA finishes its rule to limit emissions by power plants.

President Obama was able to drive emissions reductions thanks to the green energy investments in the Recovery Act, new regulations for automobile fuel-efficiency, planned regulations that dried up investment in coal plants and — most controversially on the left — supporting the natural gas boom that has cut our coal consumption. (Last month he announced plans for regulations that would mitigate the methane leakage from natural gas that also harms the climate.)

But that does not mean we can remain on auto pilot if we are to stay on this trajectory. As the UN panel warned, per Bloomberg, “The world needs to triple the energy it gets from renewables, nuclear reactors and power plants that use emissions-capture technology to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.”

To put that in perspective, the share of our energy that we got from renewables in 2012, according to the EPA, is 9.3%, which is up 25% from 2008, when it was 7.4%. Now we need it to go up 300%, while the Recovery Act’s level of investment were temporary and have not been renewed.

And the US can’t solve the problem alone. While emissions are down here and in Europe, emissions are up in China, India and Japan, and basically flat in Russia.

Fortunately, the White House and the State Department are serious about forging an international agreement, and the new numbers confirming our recent emissions cuts will bring credibility to the negotiating table.

So while there is a lot left to do, we should take heart that we are presently on right path, and know that it is possible to stay on it.

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