NEWS RAEL contributes to Chapter 3: Energy systems. In State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report for the United States

To access the Ener­gy Sec­tor chap­ter, click here.


  1. In 2013, pri­ma­ry ener­gy use in North Amer­i­ca exceed­ed 125 exajoules,1 of which Cana­da was respon- sible for 11.9%, Mex­i­co 6.5%, and the Unit­ed States 81.6%. Of total pri­ma­ry ener­gy sources, approxi- mate­ly 81% was from fos­sil fuels, which con­tributed to car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent (CO2e)2 emis­sions lev- els, exceed­ing 1.76 peta­grams of car­bon, or about 20% of the glob­al total for ener­gy-relat­ed activ­i­ties. Of these emis­sions, coal account­ed for 28%, oil 44%, and nat­ur­al gas 28% (very high con­fi­dence, likely).
  2. North Amer­i­can ener­gy-relat­ed CO2e emis­sions have declined at an aver­age rate of about 1% per year, or about 19.4 ter­a­grams CO2e, from 2003 to 2014 (very high confidence).
  3. The shifts in North Amer­i­can ener­gy use and CO2e emis­sions have been dri­ven by fac­tors such
    as 1) low­er ener­gy use, ini­tial­ly as a response to the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis of 2007 to 2008 (high con­fi­dence, very like­ly); but increas­ing­ly due to 2) greater ener­gy effi­cien­cy, which has reduced
    the region­al ener­gy inten­si­ty of eco­nom­ic pro­duc­tion by about 1.5% annu­al­ly from 2004 to 2013, enabling eco­nom­ic growth while low­er­ing ener­gy CO2e emis­sions. Ener­gy inten­si­ty has fall­en annu- ally by 1.6% in the Unit­ed States and 1.5% in Cana­da (very high con­fi­dence, very like­ly). Fur­ther fac­tors dri­ving low­er car­bon inten­si­ties include 3) increased renew­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion (up 220 peta- joules annu­al­ly from 2004 to 2013, trans­lat­ing to an 11% annu­al aver­age increase in renew­ables) (high con­fi­dence, very like­ly); 4) a shift to nat­ur­al gas from coal sources for indus­tri­al and elec­tric­i­ty pro­duc­tion (high con­fi­dence, like­ly); and 5) a wide range of new tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing, for exam­ple, alter­na­tive fuel vehi­cles (high con­fi­dence, likely).
  4. A wide range of plau­si­ble futures exists for the North Amer­i­can ener­gy sys­tem in regard to car­bon emis­sions. Fore­casts to 2040, based on cur­rent poli­cies and tech­nolo­gies, sug­gest a range of car­bon emis­sions lev­els from an increase of over 10% to a decrease of over 14% (from 2015 car­bon emis­sions lev­els). Explorato­ry and back­cast­ing approach­es sug­gest that the North Amer­i­can ener­gy sys­tem emis­sions will not decrease by more than 13% (com­pared with 2015 lev­els) with­out both tech­no­log­i­cal advances and changes in pol­i­cy. For the Unit­ed States, how­ev­er, decreas­es in emis­sions could plau­si­bly meet a nation­al con­tri­bu­tion to a glob­al path­way con­sis­tent with a tar­get of warm­ing to 2°C at a cumu- lative cost of $1 tril­lion to $4 tril­lion (US$ 2005).

Note: Con­fi­dence lev­els are pro­vid­ed as appro­pri­ate for quan­ti­ta­tive, but not qual­i­ta­tive, Key Find­ings and statements.

Con­tribut­ing Authors

Peter J. Mar­co­tul­lio, Hunter Col­lege, City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York (lead author)

Lori Bruh­wiler, NOAA Earth Sys­tem Research Lab­o­ra­to­ry; Steven Davis, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine; Jill Engel-Cox, Nation­al Renew­able Ener­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry; John Field, Col­orado State Uni­ver­si­ty; Conor Gate­ly, Boston Uni­ver­si­ty; Kevin Robert Gur­ney, North­ern Ari­zona Uni­ver­si­ty; Daniel M. Kam­men, Uni­ver­si­ty
of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley; Emi­ly McG­lynn, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis; James McMa­hon, Bet­ter Cli­mate Research and Pol­i­cy Analy­sis; William R. Mor­row, III, Lawrence Berke­ley Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry; Ilis­sa B. Ocko, Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund; Ralph Tor­rie, Cana­di­an Ener­gy Sys­tems Analy­sis and Research Initiative.


Rec­om­mend­ed Cita­tion for Chap­ter:

Mar­co­tul­lio, P. J., L. Bruh­wiler, S. Davis, J. Engel-Cox, J. Field, C. Gate­ly, K. R. Gur­ney, D. M. Kammen,
E. McG­lynn, J. McMa­hon, W. R. Mor­row, III, I. B. Ocko, and R. Tor­rie, 2018: Chap­ter 3: Ener­gy sys­tems. InSec­ond State of the Car­bon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sus­tained Assess­ment Report [Cav­al­laro, N., G. Shrestha, R. Bird­sey, M. A. Mayes, R. G. Naj­jar, S. C. Reed, P. Romero-Lankao, and Z. Zhu (eds.)]. U.S. Glob­al Change Research Pro­gram, Wash­ing­ton, DC, USA, pp. 110–188, https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​7​9​3​0​/​S​O​C​C​R​2​.​2​0​1​8​.​Ch3.


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