Energy-related carbon emissions have declined for the second year in a row, according to new data released from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The agency reported a 1.7% decline in energy-related carbon emissions in 2016, a drop of 89 million metric tons, or MMmt, from the previous years. Those emissions have decreased from 5,259 MMmt in 2015 to 5,170 MMmt in 2016, even though the GDP increased by 1.5% during the same interval. The overall carbon intensity of the energy supply declined by 1.7% and energy intensity declined by 1.4%. The EIA reported that emissions declined in six out of the past 10 years. Coal emissions have been in steady decline since the 2007 to 2009 recession, which has driven the drop in carbon intensity and kept emissions below prerecession levels, EIA noted.
Meanwhile, carbon emissions from natural gas have been increasing since 2009, as use of that fuel has increased and, in fact, surpassed coal in 2016. This partially offset the decline in energy-related carbon emissions from coal; however, natural gas produces more energy for the same amount of emissions than coal, and therefore, the fuel switch drove the overall decline in carbon emissions in 2016.
Also contributing to the trend was a general 9% decline in fossil fuel generation from 2005 to 2016, as nonfossil electricity production rose by 25%. In 2016, 383 MMmt of carbon was saved due to generation shifting to natural gas, while 240 MMmt was saved because of the addition of noncarbon generation such as wind or solar, according to the report. The share of coal generation fell from 53% in 1990 to 30% in 2016, while the share of natural gas grew from approximately 12% in 1990 to 34% in 2016. And the share of nonfossil fuel generation resources, such as nuclear and renewables, was 35% for the same year.