oversight

Climate Change: Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Emissions Intensity in the United States and Other High-Emitting Nations

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-10-28.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548



          October 28, 2003

          The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
          Ranking Member
          Committee on Commerce, Science,
           and Transportation
          United States Senate

          The Honorable John F. Kerry
          Ranking Member
          Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries,
           and Coast Guard
          Committee on Commerce, Science,
           and Transportation
          United States Senate

          Subject: 	 Climate Change: Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Emissions
                     Intensity in the United States and Other High-Emitting Nations

          In February 2002, the President reaffirmed a previous U.S. commitment to stabilize
          atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a level
          designed to prevent dangerous human interference with the earth’s climate. At the
          same time, he announced a Global Climate Change Initiative to reduce the rate of
          increase of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States between 2002 and 2012.
          Specifically, he established the goal of reducing the “emissions intensity” of the U.S.
          economy by 18 percent, a reduction 4 percentage points greater than would be
          expected absent any new policy.

          Emissions intensity is a ratio calculated by dividing emissions in a given year by
          economic output for that year. For example, in 2000, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
          were 1,909 million metric tons of carbon equivalent,1 and U.S. economic output was
                         2
          $9,216 billion; dividing these numbers yields an emissions intensity of 207 tons of
          emissions per million dollars of economic output. Changes in emissions intensity
          depend on the relative rate of change in emissions and economic output. For
          example, if emissions and economic output increase (or decrease) at the same rate,
          intensity remains constant. However, if emissions increase faster than economic
          1
           To allow for comparisons among greenhouse gases, which differ in terms of their effects on the
          atmosphere and their expected lifetimes, emissions are typically measured in million metric tons of
          carbon equivalent, which we refer to as million metric tons.
          2
           Economic output (gross domestic product, or GDP) is expressed in billions of 1996 dollars, as
          reported in the Economic Report of the President, 2002.


                                                        GAO-04-146R Greenhouse Gas Emissions Intensity
 output, intensity increases. Conversely, if economic output rises faster than
 emissions, intensity decreases.

 You asked us to describe how U.S. emissions and emissions intensity compare to the
 world’s other highest emitters. Specifically, as agreed with your offices, this report
 focuses on (1) how greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions intensity of the
 United States and the nine nations with the next-highest emissions changed from
 1980 to 2000, (2) how such emissions and the emissions intensities of the same
 nations are expected to change between 2001 and 2025, and (3) how meeting the
 administration’s goal of reducing emissions intensity by 18 percent would affect
 cumulative U.S. emissions between 2002 and 2012.

 To accomplish these objectives, we analyzed data from the Energy Information
 Administration (EIA), an independent statistical and analytical agency within the U.S.
 Department of Energy. After the United States, the next nine nations (excluding
 Russia3) with the highest 2001 emissions, in declining order, are China, Japan, India,
 Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, South Korea, and France. With the
 United States, these nations accounted for 59 percent of the world’s energy-related
 carbon emissions in 2001 and are projected to account for the same percentage in
 2025. For the first two objectives, we used data on emissions of energy-related
 carbon dioxide (generally, emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels) because
 we did not find data on the other greenhouse gas emissions for these high-emitting
 nations. (Energy-related carbon dioxide accounts for an estimated 85 percent of
                                                                                   4
 world greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. ) For
 the third objective, we used data on U.S. emissions of all greenhouse gases. We also
 analyzed the administration’s February 2002 Global Climate Change Initiative and
 supporting documentation.

 Results in Brief

 Between 1980 and 2000, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased in the
 United States and six of the other nine highest-emitting nations. Emissions increased
 22.5 percent in the United States, while the largest increase occurred in South Korea
 (231.4 percent). Emissions decreased in the United Kingdom (10.1 percent), France
 (19.9 percent), and Germany (22.3 percent). During the same period, emissions
 intensities fell in the United States (34.7 percent) and the other nations reviewed
 except India. The decrease was the smallest in Italy (19.6 percent) and the greatest in
 China (68.9 percent). In India, emissions intensity increased slightly but was
 essentially stable.

 Between 2001 and 2025, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are expected to
 increase in all 10 nations. U.S. emissions are projected to rise 43.5 percent, not
 3
  Although Russia was the world’s third-largest emitter of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in
 2001, we did not include Russia in our study because EIA did not project emissions intensity for Russia
 for 2025.
 4
 The International Energy Agency is the energy forum for the 26 member nations of the
 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.


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counting any reductions from the administration’s initiative. The smallest increase is
expected in Germany (15.2 percent), and the largest increase is expected in China
(121.6 percent). During the same period, emissions intensities are expected to
decrease in all 10 nations. In the United States, the expected decrease is 30.1 percent.
Decreases in intensities are expected to be smallest in Japan (20.8 percent) and
largest in China (47.6 percent).

If the administration’s goal of reducing U.S. emissions intensity by 18 percent
between 2002 and 2012 is met, cumulative emissions for that 11-year period would be
about 500 million metric tons of carbon equivalent lower than the 23,162 million
metric tons that would otherwise be expected, according to an EIA projection.
Specifically, achieving the administration’s goal would limit emissions to no more
than 22,662 million metric tons—2 percent below the level that would otherwise be
expected over the period.

In commenting on a draft of this report, a senior EIA official concurred without
further comment, and a senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers,
part of the Executive Office of the President, provided technical comments, which we
incorporated where appropriate.

Background

Carbon dioxide and certain other gases trap some of the sun’s heat in the earth’s
atmosphere and prevent it from returning to space. The trapped heat warms the
earth’s climate, much like the process that occurs in a greenhouse. Hence, the gases
that cause this effect are often referred to as greenhouse gases. The most prevalent
of these gases is carbon dioxide, which results from the combustion of coal and other
fossil fuels in power plants, the burning of gasoline in vehicles, and other sources. In
recent decades, concentrations of these gases have built up in the atmosphere, giving
rise to concerns that continuing increases might interfere with the planet’s climate,
for example, by increasing temperatures or changing precipitation patterns.

In 1992, the United States ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change, which was intended to stabilize the buildup of greenhouse gases in
the earth’s atmosphere, but did not impose specific goals or timetables for limiting
emissions. In 1997 the United States participated in drafting the Kyoto Protocol, an
international agreement to specifically limit greenhouse gas emissions, and in 1998 it
signed the protocol. However, the previous administration did not submit the
protocol to the Senate for advice and consent, which are necessary for ratification.
In March 2001, the President announced that he opposed the protocol.

Nearly a year later, in February 2002, the President announced his Global Climate
Change Initiative, which focuses on reducing emissions intensity compared to what
would otherwise be expected, but not necessarily on reducing the level of emissions.
EIA projects that, in the absence of new policies, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions
intensity will decrease from 183 metric tons of emissions per million dollars of GDP
in 2002 to 158 metric tons in 2012, a decrease of 14 percent. The administration’s goal
is to reduce emissions intensity to 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP—a

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 further reduction of 4 percentage points, bringing the total reduction to 18 percent by
 2012.

 According to EIA, reductions in emissions intensity can have various causes. For
 example, in the last half-century the U.S. energy supply has come to rely less on fuels
 with a high carbon content as nuclear energy, hydropower, and natural gas have been
 increasingly substituted for coal and oil in power generation. The use of renewable
 energy sources, such as ethanol, has also increased in the United States. In nations
 such as China and India, lower emissions intensities result primarily from rapid
 economic growth, rather than from a switch to less carbon-intensive fuels.

 Emissions Increased, While Intensities
 Decreased, in Most of the 10 Nations
 between 1980 and 2000

 Energy-related carbon emissions increased in the United States and six of the other
 nine highest emitters between 1980 and 2000. In the United States, emissions
 increased 22.5 percent. The increases were relatively small in Italy (17.5 percent) and
 Japan (18.8 percent) and relatively large in India (203.7 percent) and South Korea
 (231.4 percent). Emissions decreased in the United Kingdom (10.1 percent), France
 (19.9 percent), and Germany (22.3 percent). (See table 1.)

 Table 1: Emissions in 10 Nations, 1980 and 2000 (ranked by 2000 emissions levels)

                                    Emissions (million metric tons)                  Percent change
                                                                                            Average
         Nation                             1980             2000       Cumulative       annual rate
 United States                              1,288            1,578            22.5               1.0
 China                                        394              780              98               3.4
 Japan                                        261              310            18.8               0.9
 India                                         82              249          203.7                5.6
 Germany                                      291              226          –22.3               –1.3
 Canada                                       125              158            26.4               1.2
 United Kingdom                               168              151          –10.1               –0.5
 Italy                                        103              121            17.5               0.8
 South Korea                                   35              116          231.4                6.0
 France                                       136              109          –19.9               –1.1

 Sources: EIA (data); GAO (calculations).

 Emissions intensity decreased 34.7 percent in the United States and also decreased in
 eight of the other nine nations between 1980 and 2000. The decreases were the
 smallest in Italy (19.6 percent) and South Korea (20.8 percent) and the largest in
 France (47.2 percent) and China (68.9 percent). In contrast, intensity increased 1.3
 percent in India. (See table 2.)




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Table 2: Emissions Intensities in 10 Nations, 1980 and 2000 (ranked by 2000 emissions levels)

                                 Emissions intensity (metric tons of
                             carbon equivalent per million dollars of
                                                  economic output)                                     Percent change
          Nation                                                                                              Average
                                              1980                    2000           Cumulative            annual rate
United States                                   269                    176               –34.7                    –2.1
China                                         2,407                    749               –68.9                    –5.8
Japan                                            79                     55               –30.5                    –1.8
India                                           514                    520                  1.3                    0.1
Germanya                                        108                     84               –22.0                    –2.8
Canada                                          308                    226               –26.7                    –1.5
United Kingdom                                  210                    116               –44.9                    –3.0
Italy                                           125                    100               –19.6                    –1.1
South Korea                                     236                    187               –20.8                    –1.2
France                                          116                     61               –47.2                    –3.2

Sources: EIA (data); GAO (calculations).
a
Intensity data are for 1991 (the first year for which an intensity figure is available for all the territory comprising
unified Germany) and 2000; the percentage changes are calculated accordingly.

Emissions Are Projected to Increase and
Intensities to Decrease in All 10 Nations
between 2001 and 2025

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions levels of the United States and the nine
other high-emitting nations are projected to increase through 2025, while their
emissions intensities are expected to decrease over the same period, according to
    5                                                       6
EIA. U.S. emissions are projected to increase 43.5 percent. Smaller increases are
expected in Germany (15.2 percent) and the United Kingdom (19 percent). Larger
increases are expected in India (102.4 percent) and China (121.6 percent). (See table
3.)




5
 EIA cautions that its projections present plausible paths or trends for the future based on current laws
and regulations; do not anticipate volatile social, political, or economic events; and are not intended as
precise predictions of future events. In its most recent International Energy Outlook, EIA reported on
the accuracy of its past projections; see the Scope and Methodology section for additional details.
6
    This projection for the United States does not include the administration’s initiative.


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 Table 3: Projected Emissions in 10 Nations, 2001 and 2025 (ranked by 2025 level of emissions)

                                    Emissions (million metric tons)                       Percent change
                                                                                                 Average
         Nation                             2001              2025        Cumulative          annual rate
 United States                              1,559             2,237             43.5                  1.5
 China                                        832             1,844           121.6                   3.3
 India                                        250               506           102.4                   2.9
 Japan                                        316               382             20.9                  0.8
 Germany                                      223               257             15.2                  0.6
 Canada                                       155               206             32.9                  1.2
 South Korea                                  121               206             70.2                  2.2
 United Kingdom                               153               182               19                  0.7
 Italy                                        121               146             20.7                  0.8
 France                                       108               135               25                  0.9

 Sources: EIA (data); GAO (calculations).

 During the same time period, emissions intensities are projected to decrease in all 10
 nations. The decrease in the United States is projected to be 30.1 percent. The
 smallest decreases are expected in Japan (20.8 percent) and France (29.4 percent),
 and the largest decreases are expected in India (40.6 percent) and China (47.6
 percent). (See table 4.)

 Table 4: Projected Emissions Intensities in 10 Nations, 2001 and 2025 (ranked by 2025 level of
 emissions)

                                Emissions intensities (metric tons of
                              carbon equivalent per million dollars of
                                                    economic output                       Percent change
                                                                                                 Average
         Nation                             2001                 2025     Cumulative          annual rate
 United States                               166                  116         –30.1                  –1.5
 China                                       693                  363         –47.6                  –2.7
 India                                       480                  285         –40.6                  –2.1
 Japan                                        72                   57         –20.8                  –1.0
 Germany                                      98                   67         –31.6                  –1.5
 Canada                                      209                  146         –30.1                  –1.5
 South Korea                                 217                  137         –36.9                  –1.9
 United Kingdom                              104                   73         –29.8                  –1.5
 Italy                                        96                   67         –30.2                  –1.5
 France                                       68                   48         –29.4                  –1.4

 Sources: EIA (data); GAO (calculations).

 Administration’s Initiative Would Reduce
 Cumulative U.S. Emissions 2 Percent below
 the Otherwise Expected Level

 If the administration’s goal is met, cumulative emissions for 2002 through 2012 would
 be about 500 million metric tons lower than otherwise expected. EIA projected that,
 in the absence of any policy change, cumulative U.S. emissions from 2002 through
 2012 would be 23,162 million metric tons. The administration projected that the
 initiative would reduce that total to no more than 22,662 million metric tons. The


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reduction in emissions attributed to the initiative is expected to increase each year
through 2012, reaching 106 million metric tons in that year, which would represent a
5 percent decrease from the level otherwise expected. Cumulatively, for 2002
through 2012, the initiative is projected to reduce emissions by 500 million metric
tons, or 2 percent below the otherwise expected level.

Observations

Emissions increased in 7 out of the 10 highest-emitting nations from 1980 through
2000 and are projected to increase in all 10 through 2025. Emissions intensity
decreased in all but one of the nations from 1980 through 2000 and is projected to
decrease in all 10 highest-emitting nations through 2025.

Agency Comments

We provided a draft of this report for review and comment to the Secretary of Energy
and to the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, a part of the Executive
Office of the President. The Director of EIA’s Office of Integrated Analysis and
Forecasting concurred with the report without further comment. A Senior Staff
Economist at the Council of Economic Advisers provided technical comments, which
we incorporated where appropriate.

Scope and Methodology

To answer our objectives, we analyzed EIA data and the administration’s February
2002 Global Climate Change Initiative and supporting documentation. For our
analysis of emissions from 1980 through 2000 and from 2001 through 2025, we used
data on energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (generally, emissions from the
consumption of fossil fuels).7 For our analysis of emissions intensity from 1980
through 2000, we used intensity data calculated using 1995 U.S. dollars and carbon
dioxide emissions from the consumption and flaring of fossil fuels. For the analysis
of emissions intensity from 2001 through 2025, we used intensity data calculated
using 1997 U.S. dollars and carbon dioxide emissions. For the discussion of the
initiative, we used Environmental Protection Agency data for all greenhouse gas
emissions.

We did not independently assess the reliability of EIA data nor the validity of EIA
models used in this report. In its most recent International Energy Outlook, EIA
reported on the accuracy of certain of its projections of energy consumption and
other measures. For example, it noted that its 1997 projections of 2000 energy
consumption were accurate for North America (which includes Canada and the
United States), 4 percent too high for Western Europe (which includes France,
Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom), and 11 percent too high for developing
nations in Asia (which includes China and India), a region affected by a severe
recession in the late 1990s.8 We performed our work between April and October 2003

7
    These emissions data do not include carbon dioxide emitted from natural gas flaring.
8
    See EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2003, DOE/EIA-0484 (2003).


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 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards, except as
 noted.
                                           ----
 As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents of this
 report earlier, we plan no further distribution until 10 days from the report date. At
 that time, we will send copies to the appropriate congressional committees; the
 Secretary of Energy; and the Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers. In addition,
 the report will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at http//:www.gao.gov.

 Should you or your staff need further information, please contact me or David
 Marwick at (202) 512-3841. Anne K. Johnson and Kevin Tarmann made key
 contributions to this report. John Delicath and Cynthia Norris also made important
 contributions.




 John B. Stephenson
 Director, Natural Resources
  and Environment




 (360316) 




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