Carbon Emissions Back Up Again in 2013

Carbon Emissions Back Up Again in 2013
Carbon Emissions Back Up Again in 2013

It was too good to last. The three-year reduction in carbon emissions ended in 2013 as a combination of increases economic activity and rising gas prices pushed the number 2 percent higher. Emissions still remain 12 percent below their 2005 level, but the seven-year decline, led by the fracking revolution in natural gas, may have reached its limit.

The Energy Information Administration, which released the figures this week, attributed the long period of improvement to four factors:

· Weak economic growth in recent years, dampening growth in energy demand compared to pre-recession expectations · Continuously improving energy efficiency across the economy, including buildings and transportation

· High energy prices over the past four years, with the exception of natural gas, since about 2010

· An abundant and inexpensive supply of natural gas, resulting from the widespread use of new production technologies for shale gas

· Power sector decarbonization since 2010, as natural gas and renewables displaced coal But an uptick in natural gas prices – due mainly to unusually cold weather – reversed this trend.

The figures are also showing that utilities are drifting back to coal as gas prices climbed almost 30 percent over the past year.

Of course the Obama Administration’s big initiative on closing coal plants may start to have an impact. But the result there is more likely to be: 1) no new, cleaner plants; 2) long delays in shuttering existing plants; and 3) rising electrical prices. None of this does much for carbon emissions. The slowly growing opposition to natural gas drilling may have an impact on prices as well. And that cold weather – wait a minute! Didn’t this whole concern with carbon emissions start over something called "global warming?"

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