Rising US carbon emissions pose a challenge to president Barack Obama’s climate leadership ambitions
By Megan Darby
US carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption rose 3% in the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.
The latest figures from the US Energy Information Administration show energy sources belched out 2,737 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between January and June.
That was up from 2,664Mt in the same period of 2013 and 2,583Mt in 2012.
It is a reversal of the downward trend seen in the last full-year results available, from 2012. That reduction was attributed to better energy efficiency and switching from coal to less polluting shale gas for power generation.
The uptick shows president Barack Obama faces a challenge to deliver on the climate leadership he promised at last week’s UN summit in New York.
Obama said the US would hit its target to cut emissions 17% by 2020 and commit to longer term goals early next year.
Alongside China, the world’s highest emitting country, Obama said: “As the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead.”
However, the latest data shows the effect of the shale gas boom, which gifted the administration easy emissions cuts, is wearing off.
It will take concerted effort to get back to cutting carbon dioxide emissions, which cause climate change.
And Obama is struggling to push through measures to cut pollution from coal power stations, a key part of his climate action plan.
The regulations, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are fiercely opposed by Republicans and a handful of Democrats in coal producing states.
Under pressure from lobbyists, the EPA has extended the consultation period on the policy.
Opponents raise concerns about jobs that are under threat in coal mining and power generation.
In a recent speech, EPA chief Gina McCarthy accused the other side of “scare tactics” and said shifting to a low carbon economy will be good for growth.
She said: “It’s sad to see a small but vocal group of critics hide behind the word ‘economy’ to protect their own special interests; when the truth is, climate action is in everyone’s best interest.”
The New Climate Economy report, launched by former Mexico president two weeks ago, sought to show leaders they do not need to choose between climate action and economic growth.
Obama was among the heads of state to embrace the findings at UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit.
But Graca Machel, humanitarian campaigner and widow of Nelson Mandela, told the gathering in a closing speech they were not doing enough.
“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response that we heard here today,” she said.
“You must have the courage to make decisions that will make you unpopular for some thousands of your citizens, but will protect us, the billions of people.”