By - Jim Vess

Natural gas overtakes coal as a source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and Europe

Energize Weekly, December 18, 2019

Natural gas – while helping to lower overall greenhouse gas releases – has overtaken coal as a source of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and the European Union, according to a report from the Global Carbon Project.

While total fossil fuel emissions are projected to fall 1.7 percent in 2019, largely due to natural gas supplanting coal, the report said that going forward, natural gas is poised to be the major driver of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Natural gas is contributing the most to global emissions growth, followed by oil, while coal emissions are more variable,” the report said. “Since the potential peak in coal emissions in 2012, natural gas is responsible for more than half global emissions growth.”

CO2 emissions in the U.S. have been declining since 2007 as coal-fired power plants were displaced by gas-fire units and a mix of renewable generation, primarily wind and solar.

The discovery of plentiful and cheap shale gas in the U.S. sped the conversion from coal to gas, as well as declining prices for wind turbines and photovoltaic solar.

“Coal consumption has declined sharply in recent years with the shale gas boom and strong renewables growth,” the report said

Since 2011, there has been a slight growth in oil consumption, and in 2018, there was an increase in emissions driven partly by weather. Total U.S. emissions in 2018 were 12.7 gigatons.

For 2019, the report projects a decline in U.S. emissions for all fossil fuel sources except natural gas. Oil emissions are set to be 2.4 gigatons, down 0.5 percent over 2018. Coal emissions will be 1.1 gigatons, down 10.5 percent. Natural gas emissions will be 1.7 gigatons, a 3.5 percent increase.

Emissions among the European Union’s 28 countries declined steadily between 2008 and 2014, but since then, oil and gas emissions have grown.

In 2019, oil is forecast to provide 1.5 gigatons of carbon emissions, a 0.5 percent increase over 2018. Natural gas emissions will be 1 gigaton, up 3 percent. Coal emission will be 0.8 gigatons, down 10 percent. There is expected to be a small overall decline in emissions for 2019.

Global CO2 emissions were 36.6 gigatons in 2018, a 60 percent increase over 1990. The projection for 2019 is 36.8 gigatons.

The top six emitting countries in 2018 accounted for 67 percent of global emissions led by China with 38 percent of total emissions, followed by the U.S. with 15 percent, the European Union with 9 percent, India with 7 percent, Russia with 5 percent and Japan with 3 percent.

The global CO2 concentration increased in 2018 to 407 parts per million in the atmosphere, 46 percent more than in pre-industrial 1750.

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