U.S. Meets Kyoto Emissions Targets Without Trying

Emissions from energy consumption at lowest level since 1994


The United States met the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon emissions targets in 2012 without ever embracing the treaty.

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, carbon emissions from U.S. energy consumption in 2012 were at their lowest level since 1994.

The emissions reductions exceeded those required by the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a U.N. treaty proposed in 1997 and ratified by 191 countries—all U.N. member nations with the exception of the United States, Canada, South Sudan, and Andorra.

The treaty expired at the end of 2012.

According to meteorologist Anthony Watts, the United States met the treaty’s hefty 1997 carbon emission reduction targets last year, despite its refusal to ratify it.

Watts quoted from the EIA’s Monthly Energy Review:

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 were the lowest in the United States since 1994, at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2 (see figure above). With the exception of 2010, emissions have declined every year since 2007.

The largest drop in emissions in 2012 came from coal, which is used almost exclusively for electricity generation (see figure below). During 2012, particularly in the spring and early summer, low natural gas prices led to competition between natural gas- and coal-fired electric power generators. Lower natural gas prices resulted in reduced levels of coal generation, and increased natural gas generation—a less carbon-intensive fuel for power generation, which shifted power generation from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel (coal) to the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel (natural gas).

Other factors contributing to the lower emissions include decreased demand for transportation fuels and mild winter temperatures that reduced demand for heating. The warm winter months during 2012 (particularly in the first quarter) more than offset a slight increase in cooling degree days during the summer months. EIA recently published preliminary data for January-December 2012 in the March 2013 edition of the Monthly Energy Review, which includes statistics covering all aspects of energy. EIA will publish a full analysis of 2012 energy-related CO2 emissions later this year.

Watts also included this chart:

kyoto image