The Incredible Shrinking Carbon Pollution Forecast - Part 2
Posted June 26, 2012
(Updated with clearer figure 6/29/2012)
Back in February I posted about a surprising development: Despite the failure of comprehensive climate and energy legislation in 2010, U.S. carbon pollution emissions and projections of future carbon pollution have been coming down ever since. A new forecast out this week continues that trend.
My previous post was based on the “Early Release” version of the 2012 Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook and I noted at the time that the final version was likely to include a downward revision. On Monday EIA released its full Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012), and I get to say I told you so (see figure).
The Reference case projection for 2020 was reduced by 2.1 percent, while the forecast for 2035 was reduced by less than 1 percent. The official forecast for 2020—assuming no new policies—is now for carbon emissions to be 9.4 percent lower than they were in 2005. This is a huge contrast to the forecast made by EIA just seven years ago: the AEO 2005 projected that emissions would increase by 25 percent between then and 2020.
The full version of the AEO also includes a number of “sensitivity” cases, which examine how the forecast changes in response to changes in various assumptions. EIA is very conservative in how it defines “current” policy—it generally only includes final regulations in its Reference case, even when additional standards are almost certain to be established. That’s the case with passenger vehicle fuel economy (CAFE) and carbon standards for 2017-2025 model year vehicles. The Obama administration proposed those standards last year and they have been embraced by automakers and environmental advocates alike, so they are almost certain to be finalized without major changes this year. Nonetheless, these standards are not included in the Reference case, but their effect is analyzed in the “CAFE” case shown in the figure (the previous round of vehicle standards for model years 2011-2016, which are final, are included in the Reference case). EIA projects that this second round of vehicle standards will reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 1.5% in 2025 and 3.4% in 2035. (This is about half of the impact I had expected based on an offline analysis of the standards. EPA and the Department of Transportation expect a larger impact that EIA, and EIA notes that it has not fully incorporated information from the record of the proposed standard into its model).
Another version of what could be considered “current” policy is provided by what EIA calls its “Extended Policies” case. This case assumes implementation of the 2017-2025 vehicle standards and that further improvements are required from 2026 through 2035. This case also assumes that the Department of Energy continues to update energy efficiency standards for appliances as required by law and consistent with the Department’s strategic plan. (This case does not assume carbon pollution standards for power plants or other stationary sources, which EPA is also required by law to issue). The Extended Policies case reduces emissions by 1.3 percent relative to the Reference case in 2020 and 8 percent in 2035. The resultant forecast is for U.S. carbon pollution emissions to be 10.5 percent below 2005 levels in 2020 and 11.7 percent below 2005 levels in 2035.
I discussed various reasons for this incredible shrinking carbon pollution forecast in my previous post, which I won’t repeat here. What does bear repeating is that this means that the target embraced by President Obama of reducing U.S. emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is well within reach.
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