CO2 Emissions in the United States of America

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What is Carbon Dioxide?

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a chemical compound which naturally occurs from the actions of combustion, respiration and the decomposition of organic matter. Carbon dioxide only makes up a small amount of the Earth’s atmosphere, at a rate of 0.03% currently. Carbon Dioxide is a gas which is naturally present within the earth’s atmosphere due to the carbon cycle of the Earth. Carbon Dioxide is also used for industry use, such as for refrigeration purposes and in carbonated drinks. <ref> Britannica (2013) Carbon Dioxide, available: [accessed 29th September 2013]</ref>


What are CO2 Emissions?

Carbon Dioxide , also known as CO2 emissions, are a primary greenhouse gas, which is emitted from activities that humans carry out, as well as though natural causes. This gas can be emitted through activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, emissions from industries such as energy and transport industries, and the naturally occurring Carbon Dioxide from the Earth’s natural carbon cycle. However, an increase in human activities has caused CO2 emissions to increase, which is ultimately affecting the environment. CO2 is now being added to the atmosphere faster than is can be disposed of. C02 has been found to be increasing since the industrial revolution, which means the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere has likely been caused by the human-related activities <ref> NRC (2010) Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Washington: The National Academies Press</ref>. The increase of CO2 emissions within the environment have helped to cause a 'greenhouse' effect within the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, a gas which can trap heat, have then subsequentially helped to raise the Earth's temperature. In terms of carbon dioxide production, the United States of America is one country which has one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions in the world. <ref> United Nations (2013) Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tons of CO2 [online], available: [accessed 30th September 2013] </ref>.

CO2 emissions have become a concern to many due to their relationship with global warming and its effects on the environment. By increasing the burning of fossil fuels and humans engaging in activities such as deforestation, these are helping cause climate change within the Earth environment.

History of CO2 Emissions

The Keeling Curve - Record of Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Over Time

CO2 emissions have been varied throughout history, but since humans have been harnessing the Earth’s resources, the amount of CO2 going into out atmosphere has been found to be a larger amount than ever. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions going into our atmosphere has increased dramatically, with emissions started to sharply rise from the 1950s onwards <ref> Boden, T., Marland, G.m and Andres, R. (2010) Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions [online], available: [accessed 28th September 2013] </ref>. Since the Industrial Revolution, processes such as fossil fuel burning and combustion activities has allowed carbon dioxide to increase by 41% <ref>Gillis, J. (2013) ‘Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears’, New York Times, 10th May, available: [accessed 28th September 2013]</ref>. Between 1900 and 2008, the amount of global carbon dioxide emissions increased at a rate of over 16 times <ref>EPA (2013), Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, available: [accessed 29th September 2013]</ref>. The Keeling Curve, which shows data taken from Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, shows that the carbon dioxide concentration levels have increased to over 400 part per million (ppm), from just under 320 ppm in 1960 <ref>Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2013) The Keeling Curve, available: [accessed 29th September 2013]</ref>.

In terms of the history of CO2 emissions in the United States of America, CO2 emissions have been steadily rising in the country, due to the rising human need of burning fossil fuels for uses such as electricity, heat and transportation. The United States of America has the second largest amount of annual CO2 emissions in the world, with 5,433,057 tonnes being emitted in 2010 <ref>United Nations (2013) Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tons of CO2 [online], available: [accessed 30th September 2013]</ref>. It has been researched that from 1990 to 2008, carbon dioxide emissions from the USA have increased at a rate of 10% <ref>EPA (2013), Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, available: [accessed 29th September 2013]</ref>.

Biggest Causes of CO2 In The Atmosphere of the United States of America

Natural Causes

Natural factors are usually over looked when talking about climate change but volcanic activity, the earth’s orbit around the sun and solar radiation play a role in contributing CO2 to the atmosphere. Volcanic activity is episodic and has a relatively short term effect on global emissions, while solar radiation has less of an effect with solar flares rare <ref>Lockwood M, (2009) “Solar Change and Climate: an update in the light of the current exceptional solar minimum,” Proceedings of the Royal Society” </ref>. The significanc of human emissions in comparison to natural since the start of the industrial revolution the turn on the 20th century is 10 times greater <ref> Lean J. (2010) “Cycles and trends in solar irradiance and climate,” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, vol. 1, 111-122. </ref>, <ref>Bernstein et al. (2007) ‘Climate change 2007: Synthesis report for policy makers’, ‘intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’.</ref>.

Human Causes

Human causes of CO2 in the atmosphere far outweigh natural causes. Five main source of emissions are electricity (38%), transportation (31%) , industry(14%), residential (10%)and other non-fossil fuel combustion (6%). Together, carbon dioxide makes up 84% of the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the USA every year. Electricity is a significant source of energy in the United States and is used to power homes, business, and industry. The combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the US, while the combustion of fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel to transport people and goods is the second largest source of CO2 emission in the nation <ref> U.S. Department of State (2007). Fourth Climate Action Report to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: Projected Greenhouse Gas Emissions.U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, USA</ref>.

Short-lived and Long-lived Climate Forcers

Carbon dioxide is the main cause of human-induced climate change. It has been emitted in large amounts from the burning of fossil fuels due to electricity, industry and transportation needs. This means it is able to affect the climate system for a long period of time. Some of these gases are long-lived greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, so have a larger impact on climate change. Together, short-lived climate forcers are responsible for a large amount of current climate conditions from anthropogenic substances. Some short-lived climate influencers have a climate warming effect i.e. CO2, while others have a cooling effect.

If current levels of short-lived climate inhibitors are continually replenished by ongoing emissions, these continue to produce an increase in climate. A number of short-lived climate forcers have climate warming effects and when combined with an ongoing replenished supply are the most significant contributors to the human contribution of the greenhouse effect.

Other short-lived climate forcers have climate cooling effects such as nitric oxide and CFC's. In addition to carbon dioxide being expelled into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel combustion, sulphur dioxide is also released which then combines with water vapour to form tiny droplets (aerosols) which reflect sunlight. Sulphate aerosols remain in the atmosphere for only a few days, where as carbon dioxide has a longer suspension period. The cooling of sulphate aerosols is one of the largest cooling effects that greenhouse gas has in the atmosphere. The warming we have experienced until currently would have been even larger had it not been for higher levels of sulphate aerosols in the atmosphere <ref> NASA (2013) CO2 Temperature [online], available: [accessed 30th September 2013] </ref> .

Effects of CO2 Emissions in the United States of America

Ice sheets melting

The most serious consequence of CO2 emission is global warming. Global warming is defined as the continuing increasing in the average temperature of earth’s atmosphere and oceans that will result in climate change through the world <ref>Global Warming [online], available: [accessed 30th September 2013]. </ref>. The increasing of earth’s temperature will cause the polar ice caps melting . According to observations, the polar ice caps have melted faster in last 20 years than in the last 10000 (Quaile.I 2013). “It’s the first time all the people who have estimated changes in the size of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets using satellites over the past 20 years have got together to produce a single result,” Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds in the UK explained in an interview with DW <ref> Quaile.I (2013), Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever[online], available: [accessed 20th September 2013].</ref>. The result shows that Greenland is melting fastest, which is about two thirds of the ice loss is happening in Greenland(Quaile.I 2013).

Sea level rise

A comprehensive satellite study shows that the polar ice sheets melting is the main cause of raising sea levels at an accelerating rate (Quaile.I 2013). Sea level rise became faster over the last century which is expected to rise between 7 and 23 inches by the end of the century <ref> National Geographic (2007), ’’Effects of Global Warming’’[online], available:[accessed 20th September 2013].</ref>. The sea level has been rising at a rate of 0.14 inches per year since the early 1990s (National Geographic). The consequences of global sea level rise are extensive. Increasing the sea levels can cause the destructive erosion, flooding of wetlands, contamination of aquifers and agricultural soils, and lost habitat for fish, birds and plants (IPCC 2007). As the fresh water, which is from polar ice caps melting, flows into the sea, changing ocean currents and the living conditions for marine organisms (Quaile.I 2013).

Climate change

Global warming also leads to climate change. The extreme weathers are increasing rapidly, such as weather disasters, drought, floodings and hurting our health <ref> NRDC (2012), Global Warming’’ [online], available:[accessed 21st September 2013].</ref>. According to the records, heat waves, wildfires, floods and droughts hit us hard in 2012. Scientists warn that if we do not control climate change, we may suffer more disasters in the future (NRDC 2012). A warming climate will bring changes that can affect our water supplies, agriculture, power and transportation systems, the natural environment, and even our own health and safety.

Agriculture and ecosystems

Figure1: Bar graph shows the geographic distribution shift of marine species. On average, families of species shifted approximately 20 miles northward. Only a part of the species shifted southward. The majority of marine species moved northward.

Agriculture is an important sector of the U.S. Economy. Increases in temperature and CO2 can be beneficial for some crops in some place<ref> EPA(2013),’’Agriculture and Food Supply’’[online], available:[accessed 21st September 2013].</ref>.However, at the meanwhile, other conditions must also be met, like nutrient levels, soil moisture and water availability. These conditions are also controlled by the air temperature. Warmer temperatures may make many crops grow fast, which reduces the amount of time that seeds to grow and mature. This can reduce yields. In addition, fisheries are highly dependent on specific climate conditions. Warmer water temperatures are more likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift <ref> EPA(2013),’’Climate Impacts on Ecosystems’’[online], available:

[accessed 21st September 2013].</ref>, and the changes of the chemical composition of water could disrupt ecosystems (Coon.D). Warmer temperature and changes in seasons could affect the timing of reproduction and migration. For instance, in the Northwest warmer water temperatures may affect the lifecycle of salmon and increase the likelihood of disease. A report shows that more than 20% of world’s freshwater fish have become extinct, endangered, or threatened in the recent decades <ref> Coon.D , The Effects of Global Warming on the Ecosystems’’ [online], available:[accessed 21st September 2013],</ref>.


Climate influences the structure and function of forest ecosystems and plays an essential role in forest health. Climate changes can affect the growth and productivity of forests in direct and indirect ways. CO2 is required for photosynthesis. Given sufficient water and nutrients, increases in CO2 could promote growth of the trees. It only be promoting in the Northeast but not in the West and Southeast due to insufficient water resources <ref> EPA(2013),’’Climate Impacts on Forest’’[online], available:

[accessed 21st September 2013].</ref>. In addition, warming temperatures could increase the length of the growing season. Some tree species are likely to move northward or higher altitudes. This would increase the competition between plants because of high density of trees. Finally, trees may be reduced due to lack of nutrients and water. Furthermore, warmer temperatures could increase the risk of drought, the risk of extreme precipitation and flooding, which would affect the seasonal availability of water. Drought would not only increase wildfire risk, but also reduces trees’ ability to produce sap, which protects them from destructive insects such as pine beetles(EPA, forest). 
Figure2: these two maps of the eastern United States that show the current from 1960 to 1990 and projected from 2070 to 2100 forest types. It shows that there is a shift of species with more diversity in the current than in the future.

How CO2 Emissions are Monitored and Addressed in the United States of America

From the EIA report:

Annual US Carbon Dioxide Emissions

U.S. CO2 emissions in 2012 were the lowest since 1997, at 5.3 billion metric tons of CO2. With the exception of 2010, CO2 emissions have declined slowly every year since 2006.

There are two contributing factors leading to the drop of C02 emissions: the decrease of coal generation; and the increase use of natural gases. During 2012, low natural gas prices led to competition between coal and natural gas uses, and the lower natural gas prices have resulted in reduced coal generation levels. Thus, power generation is shifted from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel (coal) to the least carbon intensive fossil fuel (natural gas)<ref> Watts, A. (2013). ‘USA meets Kyoto protocol goal – without ever embracing it’. [online], available: [accessed 1st October 2013]</ref>.
Economy Wide Reductions in US CO2 Emissions (2011-2012)

As stated above, there are a few factors leading to the decline of CO2 emissions in the US. The data shows that the decline of coal generation and the increase use of natural gas are not only the largest contributors of CO2 reductions in US, however, nearly 75% of the CO2 reductions are due to the economy-wide demand such as energy efficiency, conservation and the mild winter in 2012. When combining the factors together, it is determined that the increase use of natural gas generation has reduced the CO2 emissions by 26%. The researchers also found that the drop in coal consumption due to decrease in electricity demand has reduced the CO2 emissions by 27%. Other reductions came from transport and residential sector such as decline in driving, increase in fuel- efficient cars and warmer winter in 2012 has decrease the residential energy consumption. However, reduction through energy efficiency and conservation measures are the largest impact on CO2 emissions and it is also stated that the real and lasting CO2 emissions reduction come from economy-wide policy effects, and it is therefore essential to develop the emissions through a carbon tax.<ref>Lacey, S., (2013). ‘Was Efficiency Responsible for 75% of CO2 Reductions in 2012?’ [online], available: [accessed 1st October 2013]</ref>

Voluntary programs

A set of voluntary partnerships between EPA and industry aim to reduce US emissions of high global warming potential (GWP). These gases are the byproducts from the industrial operations and can remain in the atmosphere for a long time. The high GWP partnership programs include: emissions reduction partnership for electric power systems and magnesium industry; the voluntary aluminium partnership; and the climate partnership for the semiconductor industry. These industries and programmes can help to reduce CO2 emissions by developing and implementing cost effective strategies to the industrial processes. In addition, these programmes have achieved the CO2 emission reductions and the US industries are expected to maintain its emissions below 1990 levels beyond the year 2010. The EPA also develops and maintains a program called the Significant New Alternative Policy Program, which aims to evaluate and control the CO2 emissions, and ensures that it is more environmentally practices than the substances they seek to replace.<ref>US environmental protection agency, (2013). ‘Voluntary Programs.’ [online], available: [accessed 2nd October 2013]</ref>

Carbon tax in US

Although a few states have introduced the tax, there is no nationwide carbon tax taken place in the US. The US Administration has not yet been able to support for the legislation and set either a price or a limit on the CO2 emissions. However, since 2009, the emissions trading have operated in the power sector in nine states of US, in which the California’s emissions trading scheme will start in 2013.<ref>SBS, (2013). ‘Factbox: Carbon taxes around the world.’ [online], available: [accessed 1st October 2013]</ref>

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the US

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), it is stated that the US has reduced its emissions by approximately 7.5% between 2006 and 2011, and it was more than any other country under the Copenhagen Accord. The US also set emissions reduction target for 2020, within the range of 17% against the 2005 baseline, yet, there is no formal legislation been implemented. Policy environment In the absence of federal climate legislation, the US CO2 emissions are being managed by the federal regulatory initiatives to limit its emission under: the existing Clean Air Act; state GHG initiatives; federal and state programs that used to encourage energy efficiency use, conservation and promote clean energy sources; coal plant retirements; and gain the use of natural gas as based power due to the low gas prices.

At the federal and state level, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation stated regulations to establish CO2 emission standards and corporate average economy standards for light duty vehicles, and set medium economy standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles. The EPA also issued regulations on permitting requirements for major stationary sources of CO2, and identified CCS as a pollution control technology to control the amount of CO2 emissions. Many states in US have also established CO2 emission targets. For example, California, which is one of the world’s largest economies, has implemented the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce the CO2 emissions through a combination of regulatory legislation and market mechanisms. Under this act, they established a cap and trade program to work on CO2 emissions, and they also partnering with other country such as British Columbia to develop such program that transcends national boundaries. In addition to CO2 emission laws and policies, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that there are nearly 30 states and the District of Columbia have developed renewable portfolio standards or similar legislations and laws. The EIA also projects that the total CO2 emissions in US will be reduced by more than 9% below 2005 levels in 2020 and continue to reduce through to 2035.<ref>Global CCS Institute, (2013). ‘CCS in the United States.’ [online], available: [accessed 2nd October 2013]</ref>

North American Carbon Capture and Storage Association (NACCSA)

The NACCSA is a non-profit organization that supports the development of CO2 capture use and storage (CCUS) in the US and Canada. Members of the association involve industries that are trying to reduce CO2 emissions and seek for mitigating the CO2 emissions through carbon capture and storage.

Policy statements:  CCUS as a CO2 mitigation technology  Pore space ownership and long term responsibility  CCUS regulation  CCUS and enhanced oil and gas recovery with CO2

Concept of CCUS

It is a technology that involves the injection of CO2 emission to suitable geological reservoirs, for either a long term storage or energy recovery purposes. There are various technologies developed to allow capturing CO2 from industrial facilities, and once they are captured, the gas is compressed and transported through a pipeline to the injection well. If the CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery, it is then recycled in a closed system under the ground, and results in CO2 is being stored in the reservoir

Benefits of CCUS

The CCUS holds and develops the promise of storing large volumes of CO2 in geological formations, such as in deep saline formations, depleting reservoirs, unminable coal seams and similar geologic structures. The associated members believed that the CCUS has the potential to be recognised as an emissions mitigation measure under any climate regime, as they can be applied in wide range of fossil fuel energy conversion processes. They also viewed CO2 as a gaseous material that can be used for the recovery of mineral resources such as oil and gas. Besides, the NACCSA believes that the implementation of CCUS projects can help the country to reduce its CO2 emissions by storing and using them in other purposes, and this would definitely be an opportunity to reduce the current level of CO2 emissions and position CCUB as an integral part of any climate regime. <ref>NACCSA, (2013).[online], available: {accessed 2nd October 2013]</ref>

Evaluation of Management Methods

Total US Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2011

In terms of managing their CO2 emissions levels, the United States of America is taking some active steps to help mitigate the amount of carbon dioxide they are emitting into the atmosphere. According to indicators, the current issue is the fact that the United States of America mostly emits carbon dioxide emissions from transportation, electricity and industry uses <ref>EPA (2013)Total US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, avaliable: [accessed 30th September 2013] </ref>. Although carbon dioxide emissions have been slowly declining since 2006, it needs to be ensured that the industries that do emit the most carbon dioxide emissions are becoming more sustainable so they do cause less harm on the the United States of America's environment.

The United States of America can use many different ways to help address the management issues in terms of CO2 emissions. For example, a nationwide carbon tax initiative, rather than just a few states taking part in it would be much more sustainable in terms of helping control the whole countries CO2 emissions. By introducing legislation towards a nationwide scheme, it will ultimately help emitters to face the full consequence of exactly how much carbon they are emitting <ref> SBS, (2013). ‘Factbox: Carbon taxes around the world.’ [online], available: [accessed 1st October 2013]</ref>.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, CO2 emissions are something that the United States of America will have to consider in future policy planning, due to its high rate of emissions on being the second largest producer of CO2 emissions in the world.

Research has indicated that the biggest sources of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere in the United States of America is the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity management. Since the Industrial Revolution, the increase in atmospheric CO2 has exponentially increased before human evolution. As of the moment, we have not seen a lot of difference in terms of the effects of CO2 emissions on the climate. But if unmanaged, we could see a major decline in our polar ice caps and climate system, which allows sea level to transgress towards land and continuous regression of natural forests, which in turn prevents the removal of CO2 natural processes such as forest sinks, which turn CO2 back into oxygen.

As of late, few protocols have been designed in the United States of America to help manage to production of CO2 and is echoed world wide in such initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol and Carbon Tax. Voluntary programmes however, such as partnerships between the EPA and industries have been effective in achieving CO2 emission rates and in evaluating and controlling CO2 levels.

Overall, steps are being made to help monitor the rate at which CO2 is being emitted into the United States of America's atmosphere. Now that it has been realised that CO2 emissions do have a correlation with climate change and the environment, steps can be made to mitigate the amounts of CO2 that have been previously released into the atmosphere.