Climate Change:

Trends in Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Emissions Intensity in the United States and Other High-Emitting Nations

GAO-04-146R: Published: Oct 28, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 7, 2003.

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John B. Stephenson
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Office of Public Affairs
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In February 2002, the President reaffirmed a previous U.S. commitment to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases at a level designed to prevent dangerous human interference with the earth's climate. At the same time, he announced a Global Climate Change Initiative to reduce the rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States between 2002 and 2012. Specifically, he established the goal of reducing the "emissions intensity" of the U.S. economy by 18 percent, a reduction 4 percentage points greater than would be expected absent any new policy. Congress asked us to describe how U.S. emissions and emissions intensity compare to the world's other highest emitters. Specifically, this report focuses on (1) how greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions intensity of the United States and the nine nations with the next-highest emissions changed from 1980 to 2000, (2) how such emissions and the emissions intensities of the same nations are expected to change between 2001 and 2025, and (3) how meeting the administration's goal of reducing emissions intensity by 18 percent would affect cumulative U.S. emissions between 2002 and 2012.

Between 1980 and 2000, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased in the United States and six of the other nine highest-emitting nations. Emissions increased 22.5 percent in the United States, while the largest increase occurred in South Korea (231.4 percent). Emissions decreased in the United Kingdom (10.1 percent), France (19.9 percent), and Germany (22.3 percent). During the same period, emissions intensities fell in the United States (34.7 percent) and the other nations reviewed except India. The decrease was the smallest in Italy (19.6 percent) and the greatest in China (68.9 percent). In India, emissions intensity increased slightly but was essentially stable. Between 2001 and 2025, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase in all 10 nations. U.S. emissions are projected to rise 43.5 percent, not counting any reductions from the administration's initiative. The smallest increase is expected in Germany (15.2 percent), and the largest increase is expected in China (121.6 percent). During the same period, emissions intensities are expected to decrease in all 10 nations. In the United States, the expected decrease is 30.1 percent. Decreases in intensities are expected to be smallest in Japan (20.8 percent) and largest in China (47.6 percent). If the administration's goal of reducing U.S. emissions intensity by 18 percent between 2002 and 2012 is met, cumulative emissions for that 11-year period would be about 500 million metric tons of carbon equivalent lower than the 23,162 million metric tons that would otherwise be expected, according to an EIA projection. Specifically, achieving the administration's goal would limit emissions to no more than 22,662 million metric tons--2 percent below the level that would otherwise be expected over the period.

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