Market News

 May 05, 2009
Record drop in U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2009

 In 2009, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States saw their largest absolute and percentage decline (405 million metric tons or 7.0 percent) since the start of EIA's comprehensive record of annual energy data that begins in 1949, more than 60 years ago. 

While emissions have declined in three out of the last four years, 2009 was exceptional.  As discussed below, emissions developments in 2009 reflect a combination of factors, including some particular to the economic downturn, other special circumstances during the year, and other factors that may reflect persistent trends in our economy and our energy use.

In contrast to the 0.9 percent average annual emissions decline from 2000 to 2009, the prior 1990-to-1999 time period saw U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grow on average by 1.4 percent per year.  Robust GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth (3.3 percent annually) from 1990 to 1999 on average dropped by half (to 1.6 percent) from 2000 to 2009, particularly due to the recent economic downturn. 


However, even with the reduction in economic growth since 2000, emissions would nonetheless have grown by 0.6 to 0.7 percent annually had the proportional relationship between economic and emissions growth remained the same as during the 1990s

Changes in carbon dioxide emissions can be decomposed into changes in four major contributing factors: population, per capita GDP, energy intensity of the economy, and carbon intensity of the energy supply*. All of these fell in 2009 except for population.  Population grew 0.9 percent.** The downturn of the economy caused per capita GDP to fall (3.3 percent) resulting in a total GDP decline of 2.4 percent. 


Energy intensity and the carbon intensity of the energy supply also both fell more than 2 percent.  These three factors (GDP, energy intensity, and carbon intensity) combined in roughly equal proportions to cause emissions to fall by 7.0 percent.

Total energy consumption fell across all end-use* sectors by 4.8 percent, attributable to a decline in energy intensity of around 2.4 percent, plus a decline in GDP of 2.4 percent.  While this drop in energy intensity was large, it is not unprecedented.  The average decline in energy intensity from 2000 to 2008 was 2.0 percent. The economic decline did not affect the other sectors as much as the industrial sector, which saw the greatest drop in energy consumption - 9.9 percent. 

About 95 percent of the energy consumed in the transportation sector is petroleum - motor gasoline alone accounts for about 60 percent of total transportation energy use.  Total consumption of petroleum-based fuels in 2007 averaged 14,287 thousand barrels per day.  By 2008 that had fallen to 13,712 thousand barrels per day and by 2009 to 13,277 barrels per day - 7.1 percent lower than 2007 and 3.2 percent lower than 2008. In 2008 the drop in demand was caused primarily by a spike in fuel prices during the first half of the year followed by an accelerating economic slide. 


In 2009 the continuing economic downturn further lowered demand despite average fuel prices that remained well below their 2008 level. According to preliminary Department of Transportation data the fuel economy of the total U.S. fleet improved from 27 miles per gallon in 2008 to 28.5 miles per gallon in 2009.*

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Source: www.eia.doe.gov