Sky-high fuel prices, declining energy use and a slumping economy gave the U.S. its largest annual decline in fossil fuel-based carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1982, when emissions fell 5.3 percent.

Energy-related CO2 emissions in 2008 fell 2.8 percent compared to the year before, according to preliminary data released today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Source: Energy Information Administration, preliminary estimate for 2008
Source: EIA


By comparison, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) inched up a modest 1.1 percent in 2008. At the same time, energy demand shrunk 2.2 percent. This means the amount of energy used to produce one unit of GDP dropped 3.3 percent last year.

The decline in carbon dioxide intensity -- the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP -- was even more dramatic at 3.8 percent. Since 1990, U.S. carbon dioxide intensity has plummeted 29.3 percent.

By source, the electric power sector is the largest emitter of CO2 in the U.S. Power generation emissions declined 1 percent, due in part to a boost in wind generation. Coal-based emissions fell 1.1 percent.

The EIA also breaks down CO2 emissions by end-user: transportation, residential, commercial and industrial. Fossil fuel-based emissions in each category declined, with the exception of the commercial sector, which includes stores, office and government buildings, schools and hospitals. Emissions in this sector rose 0.5 percent.

Transportation-related emissions have fallen just twice since 1990: 1.3 percent in 1991 and 1.2 percent in 2001, according to the EIA. In 2008, however, energy-based CO2 emissions plunged 5.2 percent from the year before, largely due to the painful gas prices in the spring of 2008. The transportation sector produces about 30 percent of energy-related emissions in the U.S.

Energy-related CO2 emissions in the industrial sector have been decreasing since 2004, and 2008 was no exception with a 3.2 percent decline. Emissions in the residential sector fell 1.1 percent, helped by a cooler summer.

The EIA will release a full greenhouse gas inventory later this year.