If there’s one chart that sums up the state of the energy economy in Barack Obama’s last year in office—that captures the progress of the last few years and the pain of what’s to come—it might be this one:
U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Sector
Let’s explain why. Earlier this week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA, released its research note on how greenhouse-gas emissions from the energy sector shifted in 2016. It’s among the last reports we’ll get about Obama’s final year in office, and as such it provides a baseline for Trump. Here’s how things were going when Obama handed the keys to Trump. For people who are interested in energy mostly because of its importance in the fight to mitigate climate change, the report brought both good and bad news.
The good is that the most important trend in energy continues, albeit slowly. In 2016, U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from energy-related activities fell 1.7 percent. (“Energy-related activities” here includes not only what fuels are burned generating electricity, but also gas and diesel fuel for cars and trucks.)
The continued decline in CO2 emissions is driven by cheap natural gas, which is itself made possible by domestic fracking. For the second year in a row, carbon emissions from the power sector fell by nearly five percent.