by Neil Gilbert
Global greenhouse gas emissions stalled for the third year in a row in 2016, and environmentalists the world over are going to have to swallow their pride and give credit where credit is due: to the American shale revolution. The FT reports:
A striking drop in carbon pollution in the US, where emissions fell back to what they were in 1992, helped to keep global CO2 levels in 2016 virtually unchanged from the two previous years, the International Energy Agency said.
“This is a very welcome development,” said Fatih Birol, IEA executive director. “It appears we now have the first signs of an established trend of flat emissions as a result of natural gas replacing coal in major markets and renewables becoming more and more affordable.”
U.S. emissions dropped 3 percent last year, and that fall helped to stabilize the global number of emissions, even as the global economy grew. The IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, acknowledged natural gas as the first driver behind this new trend, because plentiful and cheap natural gas is displacing coal around the world, and emitting only half as much carbon in the process. The FT has more:
Gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal. If carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, then replacing coal with gas to generate power or heat makes sense. That switch has begun in the US, despite recent promises to put miners back to work. Coal provided almost half the fuel for electricity generation a decade ago. That proportion dropped to a third last year. Gas use, in turn, has increased markedly even though coal has been usually cheaper on an energy-equivalent basis.
Climate change is a monumental problem and it will continue to be one for the foreseeable future, but we’re not helpless in the face of this issue, and there are encouraging signs on this battle front if you know where to look. Europe, led by Germany, has been gripped by green mania in recent years, but has precious little to show for its efforts—Germany’s own emissions actually rose last year.
But here in the United States, the innovative combination of different technologies (hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling) has set off an oil and gas boom that is both boosting the American economy and keeping our greenhouse gas emissions down. So while Berlin busies itself shutting down nuclear reactors and propping up expensive renewables with lavish government subsidies, Washington is actually doing the heavy lifting necessary to keep global emissions from rising.