Climate Change: More Gas from Trump and the USA

Under Trump administration policies, U.S. emissions of CO2 went up — substantially — from 2017 to 2018, according to analysis from the economic firm Rhodium Group.

The Guardian reports:

Rhodium Group tracks the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The firm found a modest decrease in carbon emissions between 2016 and 2017, in part because of a warmer-than-usual winter that didn’t require as much heating. Since then carbon output has surged.

The firm’s analysis suggests that this bodes ill for future U.S. emissions now that the Trump administration has undercut Obama’s policies to limit them:

“The tailwinds of Obama administration policy are dissipating,” said Trevor Houser, a partner at the firm. “This year makes it abundantly clear that energy market trends alone – the low cost of natural gas, the increasing competitiveness of renewables – are not enough to deliver sustained declines in US emissions.”

Some of the slack has been taken up by local governments, but in the long run it needs federal help:

Houser said the numbers would have been worse without the state and local policies enacted during the past five to 10 years. But that the groundswell of climate commitments by governors and mayors since Trump said he would exit the international Paris climate agreement might not translate into policy for some time, he added. He said those efforts are likely to be significant but not sufficient to meet the levels the US pledged.

It’s interesting to consider, not just the progress of CO2 emissions, but how much is in the atmosphere. This is measured in parts per million, usually just called “ppm,” and has been monitored continuously since the late 1950s at the Mauna Loa atmospheric observatory in Hawaii. Without further ado:

The prominent seasonal cycle is due to the fact that most of the world’s land is in the northern hemisphere. During northern spring and summer, CO2 decreases as plant growth extracts it from the air, then during northern autumn and winter plant decay returns it to the atmosphere. We can remove the seasonal cycle to give us a clearer picture of the trend changes, like this:

Not only has CO2 been on the rise, its rate of increasing is has been getting faster.

I posted about that fact just about ten years ago. Let’s take the data available back then, through 2008 but no later, and extend its trend into the future. We won’t just extent a straight-line trend either, we’ll extend the accelerating trend into the next decade. Finally we’ll compare that to what has actually happened since.

Here’s a solid blue line for the accelerating trend (quadratic fit by least squares) using the data through 2008, and a black line showing the data:

The two are so close that at times, it’s hard to tell them apart. We can easily extent the trend estimate into the future — acceleration and all — which I’ll add as a red line:

That’s what would have happened had it followed the same trend exactly. And what did happen? This:

As you can see, not only did CO2 keep rising, not only did it continue to rise at least as fast as that still-accelerating trend, it managed to get a bit higher lately.

If we’re going to keep CO2 levels low enough, we have to reduce emissions. This needs to happen worldwide, and the United States can be one of the leaders. Hell, we can show ’em how it’s done. In the USA I grew up in, we didn’t whine about what China and India weren’t doing. We didn’t accept “it’s too difficult.” We chose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I’ve been blogging about this for over ten years. In that time America has failed even to meet the challenge, let alone conquer it. America has fallen. My America can get back up again.

This blog is made possible by readers like you; join others by donating at My Wee Dragon.


19 responses to “Climate Change: More Gas from Trump and the USA

  1. While it’s easy for those of us in the rest if the world to quickly scapegoat the US (with incredibly high p.p emissions) and Trump in particular, an interesting article by Kevin Anderson today points out the issue with a host of nations and high emitting individuals

    Personally, I have decided that adaption needs to be in my hands as governments aren’t taking this seriously because voters aren’t taking this seriously, and I moved and have done a few other things to try and delay the inevitable.

    • As ever Kevin is spot-on with his (depressing) analysis. I just wish there were more like him, with genuine expertise, telling it like it is, and more people taking actual notice. Look how many views he gets on youtube compared to many much less realistic speakers. People don’t want to know, and so long as there are a load of people telling them what they want to hear (something a lot more optimistic, requiring them to do very little) most people will choose that. Which is why we need a lot more people being truthful/blunt about _actually_ changing things, at more than glacial pace.

  2. There exists a mentality of, “What can I get out of this?” which totally precludes doing anything for the greater good. This mentality has has taken hold of the leaders and influential people of large chunks of the world.

  3. One nit pick…

    If we’re going to keep CO2 levels low enough, we have to reduce reverse emissions.

  4. Abject failure.

    Better start getting our legs under us.

  5. This reminds me of an old saying: “There’s never enough time (money) to do it right, but always enough time (money) to do it over.

    My expectation is after people believe that there is an atmospheric CO2 overshoot there will be a push to fund active capture and storage from the atmosphere. My other expectation is that oil companies will be bidding on this because they have the infrastructure.

  6. It’s difficult to understand exactly why US territorial emissions are up. They (CO2) emissions were increasing for a long time until the Global Financial Crisis which caused emissions to plummet. They have been substantially the same since then but this is only an estimate of territorial emissions and doesn’t include air transport, sea freight or the net of imports/exports. Maybe the recent uptick is because of less imports, meaning more has to be manufactured in the US. I don’t have any evidence for this, just speculating, though I know that the full picture can only be given by consumption based accounting – the emissions due to economic activity in a country. If this were the primary way of accounting for emissions, it would be impossible for some countries to claim they’ve done more than others.

    • US economic activity was pretty high last year, which would tend to drive emissions up, all else being equal.

      I suspect weather played a role in driving things, though that’s an unexamined suspicion, so many grains of salt are suggested. But, for instance, I well recall the brutally cold January we had last year, and the shape of our household electricity demand curve that resulted. (Duke Power thoughtfully supplies monthly reports, though for some unfathomable reason they are mailed separately from the actual power bill.) Then there was the stretch from essentially early May well into October, in which very few days here failed to reach 90 F or (usually) considerably higher. So lots of AC running, for about 5 months. That’s just our location, of course, but I think the wider trends were not dissimilar.

      Then there is the stimulative effect of the mega-disasters of the year: in GDP-style accounting, all that rebuilding counts as economic activity, even though in terms of real welfare all you are doing is getting back to the ‘level of utility’ you previously had. What’s the first thing you do after a hurricane, flood or wildfire? Why, rev up the chainsaws and trucks and generators, of course. Later come the cement mixers and cranes.

  7. More statistical operations maybe worth a look:

    This study provides new ENSO reconstructions based on a large, updated collection of proxy records. We use a novel reconstruction approach that employs running principal components, which allows us to take covariance changes between proxy records into account and thereby identify periods of likely teleconnection changes. Using different implementations of the principal component analysis enables us to identify periods within the last millennium when quantifications of ENSO are most robust. These periods range from 1580 to the end of the 17th century and from 1825 to present. We incorporate an assessment of consistency among our new and existing ENSO reconstructions leading to five short phases of low agreement among the reconstructions between 1700‐1786. We find a consistent spatial pattern of proxy covariance during these four phases, differing from the structure seen over the instrumental period. This pattern points towards changes in teleconnections in the west Pacific/Australasian region, compared to the present state. Using our new reconstructions, we find a significant response of ENSO towards more La Niña‐like conditions 3‐5 years after major volcanic events. We further show ….. [more]

  8. I have been engaged on-&-off for some months against others within the RealClimate ‘Unforced Variations’ threads on the issue of whether the leveling-off of anthropogenic CO2 emissions 2014-17 would also see a leveling-off in the acceleration of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This has in the past spilled over into the Open Mind threads and resulted in an OP on the subject which concluded that there was no sign (yet) of any reduction in the acceleration yet alone a leveling. Indeed, the conclusion was

    “Bottom line: CO2 is on the rise, the rise itself (velocity) has been getting faster (acceleration), and there’s no evidence at all that has changed recently.”

    With the posting of this OP above, it was suggested I share my evidence that shows a change in the CO2 acceleration resulting from that 2014-17 leveling-off of anthropogenic emissions.

    My motivation in this is the leveling-off of anthropogenic emissions, citing the Global Carbon Project data which shows annual emissions from FF+LUC as flat since 2014 (11.3Gt(C)/yr). (The 2018 figure is yet to be determined. While ‘no increase’ would be very encouraging news, it should be made plain that ‘no increase’ is a poor target. These emissions do need to start to drop and drop quickly.)
    Emissions have been accelerating very roughly at the same rate as CO2 levels and while the leveling-off is evident and is the most significant leveling-off relative to preceding acceleration rates, it does not feature greatly and is not the only period of levelling-off.
    So the finding in this OP, that the rate of acceleration 1958-2010 has been exceeded 2010-18, is correct.

    However, in more detail, I would suggest that the data can be presented to show the 1958-2010 acceleration has been exceeded 2000-14, this driven by accelerating anthropogenic emissions. Since 2014, the excessive acceleration has continued but this results from ENSO and not the emissions. Correcting for ENSO shows an encouraging deceleration.
    To find this result, I carried out OLS using the Airborne Fraction (using GCP & ESRL MLO annual data) against preceding average MEI* values (April[y-1]-March[y]). Using both 1995-2017 data as well as the full MLO record shorn of volcano years, the results suggest Af is boosted by 11% x MEI*. Using the result to adjust the MLO data (Af[adj]/Af[actual]) reduced the noise within the MLO data by 50% (ignoring volcano years). Graphed out here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’), the adjusted CO2 increase has fallen below the long-acceleration increase (the dotted line), with the graph showing a rising rate of CO2 level (acceleration) to 2012 (the high acceleration in the GCP CO2 emissions data stops in 2012) and then a dropping CO2 level. Whether this adjusted ‘dropping’ is statistically significant is another matter.

    And for the record, the ESRL global CO2 record has been wieldied within the RC kerfuffle, resulting in the following analsis (graphed here (usually 2 clicks) which also suggests an encouraging slowdown. (The global data is of course a whole new ball game for analysis.)

  9. Thank you, Al, for posting your thoughts here. My position at real climate has been that you cannot detect a slowing with any certainty that relates to changes in the emissions. The reason I think you cannot detect the slowing with any certainty is that you have to factor out the ENSO bump to see it and deciding how much to factor out the ENSO bump produces the results. This becomes an exercise where a person can find the result they are seeking by adjusting the ENSO.

    Frankly, this push that Nigel drove at Real Climate to detect a slowing in CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere that relates to the slight emission slowdown of 2014-2017 is like the photofinish of a horse race, except it takes place at the start, so it is an exercise in seeking a photostart. Silly, imho, but Nigel seems quite committed to it. I think Al and I agree on most of the particulars regarding this discussion, except where Al says:

    “Since 2014, the excessive acceleration has continued but this results from ENSO and not the emissions. Correcting for ENSO shows an encouraging deceleration.”

    I think a person will find the result they seek through their decision on ENSO correction, so this part of Al’s analysis seems silly to me. I am curious to see if folks here think that we can reliably and accurately correct for an ENSO event.

    Finally, with the emission increase of 2018, the discussion and focus on detecting a pause in atmospheric accumulation numbers to match the 2014-2017 pause becomes an academic exercise, unless 2018 emission numbers are an outlier on the high side and we see emission numbers changing their arc. Again, too soon to know, more photostart stuff imho. We need to work hard… very, very hard on emission reduction and other changes to put an end to the hockey stick disaster. The important number is the peak, the top number, in terms of CO2, that our species puts in the atmosphere and oceans. The important time is when we hit that peak number and start holding that number and begin the hard work of moving that number down.

    But, hey, what do I know?



    • We have yet to see the 2018 values for total anthropogenic emissions. It will probably be a small increase relative to those seen 1990-2010 (or am I being overly optimistic?).
      As for correcting for ENSO being “silly,” that would surely depend on the correlation obtained, in this case between Airborne Fraction and MEI*. With that in mind, here is a plot of that correlation graphed out here (usually 2 clicks to ‘download your attachment’).

  10. As I understand it, territorial human caused emissions estimates (which don’t include all sources of emissions), for the Earth as a whole, slightly declined for only one year, so there wasn’t really a pause in emissions, even if some 12 month periods had lower growth than previously, but it’s hard to get a full picture of global emissions, which include all sources (including air and sea transport, plus land use change). If anyone has a link to such data, I’d be grateful.

    • The Global Carbon Project provide annual values for global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The last years provided are shown below with the total emissions flat 2014-2017:-
      Global CO2 Emissions (GtCarbon)
      Year … … FF+cement … .. LUC … … … Total
      2009 … … … 8.60 … … … 1.57 … … … 10.17
      2010 … … … 9.02 … … … 1.42 … … … 10.44
      2011 … … … 9.38 … … … 1.36 … … … 10.74
      2012 … … … 9.53 … … … 1.60 … … … 11.13
      2013 … … … 9.61 … … … 1.54 … … … 11.15
      2014 … … … 9.69 … … … 1.60 … … … 11.29
      2015 … … … 9.68 … … … 1.62 … … … 11.30
      2016 … … … 9.74 … … … 1.30 … … … 11.04
      2017 … … … 9.87 … … … 1.39 … … … 11.26

      • Thanks, Al, for posting up those CO2 emission numbers. Gavin said recently at RC that we need to get CO2 emissions down around 2.0 GtC to stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere. Do you accept Gavin’s number and thinking regarding the target emission number?

        to be clear, I think correcting for ENSO to determine if you can see a levelling of the CO2 accumulation that relates to slowing emissions is silly. Humans do many silly things, I am generally ok with that.


      • Thanks for prompting me to check the latest 2018 paper, which does mention that the global figures do indeed include emissions from air and sea transport, though this will not be the same as adding together national figures, since nations don’t include air and sea transport fuels. So there was a slight decline for FF+C emissions from 2014 to 2015 but that seems to have been an outlier.

      • smallbluemike,
        The quantity of CO2 emitted into the atmpsphere since 1750 is something like 680Gt(C). As far as the level of our CO2 being sequestrated into ocean/biosphere, this is dependent on how long ago the CO2 was emitted. The first half of this CO2 arrived by about 40 years ago but the average time since emission is longer, 60 years. Today, about 6.5Gt(C is being sequestrated per year), a little under 1% of the total emissions, and if we wanted to maintain the level of CO2 at current values (although why we would want to do that I know not), we could achieve that by emitting just 6.5Gt(C)/year. By the end of the century, if we wished to maintain CO2 levels at current values,the emissions=sequestration would have to fall, possibly to something like 2Gt(C). But after the end of the century, the emissions=sequestration would have to continue to fall, eventually reaching zero.

        And regarding “silly,” it is still not clear to me. Are you saying establishing the underlying rate of atmospheric CO2 increase by “correcting for ENSO” is “silly”? Note that over at RC there are those who happily assert they have such a value with absolutely zero evidence to support it, assertions which I truly consider “silly”!

      • as I said: I think correcting for ENSO to determine if you can see a levelling of the CO2 accumulation that relates to slowing emissions is silly.

        To be more clear: I think correcting for ENSO to determine if you can see a levelling of the CO2 accumulation that relates to slowing emissions from 2014 to 2016 is silly.

        I think it’s silly because emissions have been on the rise from 2017 and 2018. The important emission numbers are the ~10 GtC (per Gavin) that we are emitting and the target of ~2 GtC needed to stabilize atmospheric accumulation of CO2. Since the emission totals have gone in the wrong direction for the past couple of years, I think our focus should be on determining how to stop the growth of emissions and push the needle down toward the ~2GtC target as fast as we can.

        If we are able to slow the growth of emissions over the next ten to twenty years, but we still continue to emit something on the order of 10 GtC each year, then we will be in a more precarious position at the end of those time frames than we are in at this moment. Holding the line at 9 to 10GtC does not fix things. Some folks may believe that bobbing back and forth between 9.5 and 10 GtC is a cause for celebration. I am not one of those people.

        I think we know what we know, and that is: we have to reduce the total of emissions to something close to 2 GtC per year to stabilize CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere. We need to be at 2. We are at 10. Folks who want to argue, no, we were only at 9.8 GtC or 9.6 GtC for 2014, 2015, 2016 may enjoy the argument, but 9.6 is not 2. Gavin says 2 is what it takes to stabilize CO2 accumulation. I suspect he is right.

        I am waiting to see if anyone here is going to look at your work and weigh in on it. Much ado about nothing.

        Thanks for posting it here, in any case.


      • smallbluemike,
        Concerning our emissions of CO2 (from all sources), 2017 emission are still less than 2014’s. While we have had initial reports that 2018 emissions from FF are above 2017’s, just as we had in 2017, (and note these reports came from the same folk who say total emissions are flat since 2014. See their numbers in the table up-thread.): While we have had such reports, this does not imply a return to the ramping up of CO2 emissions as seen in the 2000s.

        You further say

        “If we are able to slow the growth of emissions over the next ten to twenty years, but we still continue to emit something on the order of 10 GtC each year, then we will be in a more precarious position at the end of those time frames than we are in at this moment. Holding the line at 9 to 10GtC does not fix things. Some folks may believe that bobbing back and forth between 9.5 and 10 GtC is a cause for celebration. I am not one of those people.”

        If “over the next ten to twenty years” we do not see massive cuts in our emissions, we will be truly stuffed. We need to reduce our emissions, not to 2Gt(C) but to zero. And we need to do this by 2050 or embark on negative emissions in the second half of the century to make good our failure to achieve zero by 2050.