U.S. CO2 lowest since 1992

graph of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, first quarters of 1992-2012, as described in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review. Note: Reflects total carbon dioxide emissions in metric tons by quarter.

U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from energy use during the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period. Normally, CO2 emissions during the year are highest in the first quarter because of strong demand for heat produced by fossil fuels. However, CO2 emissions during January-March 2012 were low due to a combination of three factors:

  • A mild winter that reduced household heating demand and therefore energy use
  • A decline in coal-fired electricity generation, due largely to historically low natural gas prices
  • Reduced gasoline demand

U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption totaled 1,340 million metric tons during the first quarter of 2012, down nearly 8% from a year earlier and the lowest for the January-March period since 1992, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's June Monthly Energy Review.

CO2 emissions from coal were down 18% to 387 million metric tons in the January-March 2012 period. That was the lowest-first quarter CO2 emissions from coal since 1983 and the lowest for any quarter since April-June 1986. The decline in coal-related emissions is due mainly to utilities using less coal for electricity generation as they burned more low-priced natural gas.

About 90% of the energy-related CO2 emissions from coal came from the electric power sector. Coal has the highest carbon intensity among major fossil fuels, resulting in coal-fired plants having the highest output rate of CO2 per kilowatthour.