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U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 10 Percent in Past Decade

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World leaders are gathered in Paris for talks to reach agreement on worldwide curbs to greenhouse gas emissions.

Leaders from over 150 nations opened the talks Sunday, which will continue for the next 12 days. Organizers hope to reach agreement on broad, non-binding limits on carbon emissions around the world.

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“If we act here, now, if we place our short term interests behind the air that our children will breathe and the water our children will drink,” President Obama said at the opening of the conference. “Then we will not be too late for them.”

Left out of most news reports is the fact that carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions have been falling in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, carbon emissions in the U.S. have fallen 10.2 percent in the last decade. This fact flies against oceans of rhetoric about the U.S. continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere unless there’s government action.

The last major framework for reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions was the Kyoto Protocols, negotiated in 1997. That agreement tied countries around the world to binding targets for reducing emissions. The U.S. Senate unanimously rejected the Kyoto Protocol after President Clinton submitted the agreement for approval.

Since the U.S. rejected the agreement in 1998, greenhouse gas emissions here have fallen by more than 5 percent. Total emissions in the U.S., in fact, are just slightly above the 1990 levels which were the goal of the Kyoto agreement. The U.S. has made far more progress reducing its emissions that many countries subject to Kyoto’s binding reductions.

It is important to remember that the American reductions in emissions are occurred without significant government action or regulations. Carbon taxes, long considered a necessary, and inevitable, measure to control emissions haven’t been implemented. Complicated regulatory schemes like “cap and trade” have also been left on the legislative cutting-room floor.

The government has pursued minor efforts like subsidizing renewable energies, but these have had negligible effects on overall emissions. Even planned regulations meant to strictly limit carbon use remain mostly on the drawing board.

The U.S. drop in carbon emissions also accompanied a resurgence in domestic fossil fuel energy production. Even if the discovery of cheaper sources of carbon-derived energy cause on increase in emissions in the future, the U.S. would still be operating from a much lower level of greenhouse gas emissions than when the Kyoto agreement was rejected.

If there is a worldwide crisis in carbon emissions, the source of the trouble isn’t the developed economics, but emerging economies like China and India. According to the UN, in the last 40 years, the world’s developed, richest, economies have increased carbon emissions by just 40 percent. China, on the other hand, has increased its carbon emissions by over 900 percent.

Today, China and India emit more carbon than all the most developed economies combined. China’s carbon emissions are almost double the United States.

Maybe climate change is a problem, although the evidence based on actual data, rather than projections, is slim. To the extent that it is, though, it is not from the sins of the United States. Businesses and individuals here, in an eternal quest to drive down their costs, have became much more energy efficient, drastically reducing our carbon footprint.

It is unclear that onerous new government regulations and taxes would achieve better results in the US. Even if it did, though, it likely would have little impact on the overall world emissions. Unless China and India act, the ongoing talks in Paris are little more than a boost to the city’s tourism industry.


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