New information, released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), has revealed that energy-related Carbon dioxide emissions fell in the United States during 2012. This reduction occurred despite the fact that the U.S. economy grew during that same year. This gives support to those who argue that absolute GHG emission reduction targets are feasible.
U.S. CO2 emissions fell by 3.8% in 2012, bringing them down to their lowest level since 1994. This reduction was largely unexpected, due to the economic growth the U.S. experienced as it continued to steadily recover from the 2008 financial crises. The EIA points to a variety of factors that contributed to this reduction in CO2 emissions. A relatively mild winter, more efficient vehicle fleets, and more natural gas use in the place of coal were all factors. However, increased efficiency in the private sector also played an important role.
This new information is evidence in the ongoing debate of absolute GHG emission reduction targets vs. intensity GHG emission reduction targets. Many policy makers and intellectuals argue that intensity-based reduction targets (i.e. GHG emissions per unit GDP) are far more realistic than absolute targets (i.e. the total amount of GHGs released, regardless of economic variability). However, this data from 2012 has demonstrated that absolute reduction is possible on a national scale. Those arguing for absolute emissions caps will likely point to 2012 as evidence that ambitious absolute targets can and should be embraced.
One caveat … the good news about reducing GHG emissions in the face of growth does not mean that businesses should scale back their GHG emission reduction plans. After all, much of the progress was in the residential and transport sector. It is as urgent as ever that companies spearhead reductions. Businesses will need to play a much larger role in GHG emission cutbacks if absolute reduction targets are to be maintained and pushed further.