EIA projects US energy-related CO2 emissions to decrease

Monday, February 10, 2020

If no new laws or regulations are adopted, a federal report projects that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will decrease through the early 2030s, before increasing slightly to 4.9 billion metric tons in 2050, based on changes in the fuel mix for electricity generation and increasing activity in the industrial and transportation sectors.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration publishes an annual report on projections and possible scenarios. The most recent release, Annual Energy Outlook 2020 (AEO2020), includes a "reference case" which assumes that no new laws or regulations are enacted which affect energy-sector carbon emissions. Under that scenario, EIA's modeling shows total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions decrease until 2031, then resume growth, but remain 4% lower than 2019 levels by 2050.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2020

Transportation contributes more energy-related CO2 emissions than electric power generation, industrial activity, or any other sector tracked in EIA's AEO2020 report. EIA projects decreases in transportation sector emissions through the late 2020s, as fuel efficiency increases faster than does the total distance traveled, but then projects that increased activity in the transportation and industrial sectors will lead to more consumption of petroleum and natural gas.

While the U.S. electric sector formerly emitted more CO2 emissions than did the transportation sector, CO2 emissions associated with electricity generation have fallen significantly in recent years -- a trend EIA projects will continue for the near term. EIA's reference case projects that the largest drop in the U.S. electric power sector’s CO2 emissions experience will arrive by 2025, as coal power plants continue to retire while new renewable generation capacity is added. After 2025, EIA's reference case projects that electric power sector CO2 emissions will remain relatively flat "as the more economically viable coal power plants remain in service."

Meanwhile, EIA projects that residential and commercial energy sector emissions will remain largely unchanged through 2050; each is a relatively small contributor to the nation's total energy-related CO2 emissions budget.

In other scenarios included in AEO2020, EIA notes that U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions projections are sensitive to assumptions regarding variables such as economic activity, oil prices, renewable energy technology costs, and oil and natural gas resource estimates. The report noted that economic growth assumptions can significantly affect emissions projections, with high and low economic growth cases affecting CO2 emissions by +13% and -11% respectively.

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