EIA expects energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to decrease 11% in 2020

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decline by 11% (572 million metric tons) in 2020.

This decline would represent the largest decline in not only percentage but also absolute terms in EIA’s energy-related CO2 series that dates back to 1949.

Much of EIA’s predicted drop in CO2 emissions stems from travel restrictions and general economic slowdown related to the efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, EIA expected a decline in 2020 energy-related emissions before the effects of COVID-19, generally consistent with the trend of lower U.S. CO2 emissions since their peak in 2007.

In mid-March the demand in the U.S. for petroleum products began to decline and, by mid-April, reached their lowest levels in decades. Stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and work-from-home arrangements led to a reduced demand for motor gasoline, distillate fuel oil, and jet fuel.

Natural gas accounts for the second-largest share of energy-related U.S. CO2 emissions, at 33% of the 2019 total. Compared with petroleum and coal, EIA expects a relatively smaller decline in natural gas consumption and its related CO2 emissions in 2020.

The electric power sector is the largest consumer of natural gas. Although EIA projects power sector electricity generation to decline by 5%, EIA expects natural gas consumed by the power sector to only decline by 1% because of relatively low natural gas prices. The closing or reduced operation of many nonessential businesses, combined with generally warmer weather in 2020, has led to a decline in the commercial sector’s natural gas consumption.

U.S. energy-related emissions from coal have fallen in each of the past six years, and it accounted for 21% of the 2019 total. EIA’s latest forecast expects coal CO2 emissions to fall 23% in 2020 to 832 million metric tons. The electric power sector accounted for more than 90% of the coal consumed in the United States in 2019, and EIA expects coal to continue to lose market share to natural gas and renewables in 2020.

EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 will increase in 2021 by 5%. This change in emissions is proportionally less than the expected change in the economy (6% increase in GDP) as businesses, industries, and institutions resume normal operation.