Environmental data for 2017 are pouring in, and the results might not be what you’d expect.
In the United States, where President Trump has promised to unshackle the coal industry and to abandon an international climate change treaty, greenhouse-gas emissions fell last year and are expected to continue falling.
In Europe, where political leaders consider climate change an urgent priority, emissions rose last year.
In the United States, a report released last week by the Rhodium Group says that even though Trump “continues to unravel Obama-era climate and clean energy policies,” falling costs of renewable energy and natural gas are “keeping U.S. greenhouse gas emissions on the downswing.”
The latest government data show emissions have fallen 12 percent from 2005 to 2016. The Rhodium Group report estimates that by 2020, emissions will have fallen between 15 percent and 17 percent compared with 2005 levels.
Private-sector data is also lending support to the view that American emissions are still falling. An estimate by BP, released last month, shows U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 fell by 42 million tons compared with the previous year—a bigger drop than any other country—equaling a reduction of 0.5 percent in the first year of the Trump presidency.
In contrast, emissions are rising in Europe and much of the rest of the world. According to the BP data, Europe’s carbon dioxide emissions rose 92 million tons, or 2.5 percent. That includes increases in France (2 percent), Germany (0.1 percent), and Spain (7 percent). Carbon emissions rose in a majority of European countries last year, according to European Union data.
Other countries had increases, too, including China, the world’s biggest polluter, with an increase of 119 million tons, or 1.6 percent. Canada’s rose 3.4 percent.
More than anything, the new emissions data show that government policy is but one factor in determining emissions. Larger economic trends—such as the emergence of low-cost sources of energy such as shale natural gas—can play a much bigger role than, say, Washington regulations cracking down on coal.