In the latest issue of the “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has acknowledged that “U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will rise by 3 percent in 2018.”
This contradicts out-of-date and misleading data and news releases EIA had released on multiple occasions this fall suggesting that U.S. CO2 emissions were declining; data that has been cited by Trump Administration officials to justify energy and environmental policies.
Though not well-publicized, EIA has acknowledged in its monthly STEO reports since the beginning of this year that an increase in CO2 emissions was expected in 2018. However, the level of the anticipated increase has been relatively small. For the first six months of 2018, EIA forecast, on average, an increase of 1.3 percent in 2018 CO2 emissions. For the four-month period July – October 2018, the average of its forecasts for the increase in CO2 levels in 2018 rose to 2.1 percent. Its highest previous forecast for the year, a 2.5 percent increase, was issued on Nov. 6.
However, it has been obvious for some time that earlier EIA predictions were low-balling the likely level of increased CO2 emissions for the current calendar year. Data released previously by EIA in its “Monthly Energy Review”, but which the agency failed to highlight, showed that the rate at which CO2 emissions were actually rising outpaced the increases EIA forecast throughout the year in its monthly STEOs. In fact, the SUN DAY Campaign warned, on more than one occasion, that CO2 emissions were on track to record a 3 percent increase, a forecast now seconded by EIA.
And indeed, the 3 percent figure may itself prove to be an under-estimate.
U.S. emissions of CO2 from energy consumption have increased during each of the first eight months of 2018 compared to the corresponding months in 2017. For the first two-thirds of 2018, total CO2 emissions from domestic use of petroleum; natural gas; coal; biomass; geothermal energy; and non-biomass waste were 2.9 percent higher than for the same period in 2017. Those from fossil fuels alone (coal, petroleum, natural gas) have risen by more than 3 percent (3.05 percent) while those from just natural gas rose upward by over 12 percent (12.03 percent). For the most recent month reported (August 2018), CO2 emissions were 3.4 percent higher than a year earlier.
So it should come as no surprise if the final 2018 figures show an increase in excess of the 3 percent now predicted by EIA.
Further, if the current growth rate continues, CO2 emissions from energy consumption in 2018 will be back up to, and probably exceed, the level they were at in 2015. Moreover, a 3 percent increase in domestic CO2 emissions would be greater than the global increase for 2018 forecast by the International Energy Agency and the Global Carbon Project, suggesting that the U.S. is not just contributing its fair share to the world-wide increase but actually helping to drive it higher.
Whether the trend continues into 2019 is open to debate. In its latest STEO, EIA says it “expects emissions to decline by 1.2 percent in 2019 because it forecasts that temperatures will return to near normal.”
“But given the Trump Administration’s relentless drive simultaneously to expand fossil fuel development and use and to roll back Obama-era climate policies,” warns Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, “it is probably foolish to accept EIA’s expectation of a decline in CO2 emissions next year.”