Brad Plumer has written an insightful post summarizing a new report from the Energy Information Administration on the rapid decrease in U.S. CO2 emissions, and suggesting that it strengthens the case for a tough climate bill. But first he observes that the decline in CO2 emissions isn’t just about the economic slump.
Is that all due to the economic slump? Nope. Only about one-third of the drop is from the recession. Another third is due to the U.S. economy getting more energy efficient—probably a response to the sky-high oil prices in the summer of 2008. And the other third is due to the fact that electric utilities are switching to cleaner energy sources. Power companies are swapping out dirty coal for natural gas (which emits about half the CO2), in part because new discoveries of the latter have caused prices to drop. Renewable power is also gaining ground.
Impressively, this has happened in the absence of an expensive climate bill that would impose a variety of new taxes and fees. Plumer continues:
Right now, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill would try to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. But we’re already more than halfway there—and it’s quite likely we’ll drop a bit more even without a bill. So there’s no good reason why Congress can’t craft a much more ambitious carbon cap. The EIA report suggests that meeting that target would be pretty easy.
Could it be that this rapid progress suggests a different approach towards climate strategy, one that places a heavier emphasis on low-cost initiatives like managing urban heat islands, more effectively addressing methane emissions, and perhaps a very modest fee-and-dividend program, for the reasons Jonathan Adler has described?