IEA report: Global energy emissions hit record high in 2012

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The United States actually curbed greenhouse gas emissions — to mid-1990s levels — thanks in large part to electric utilities burning more natural gas as prices plummeted.

That will be difficult to duplicate, the IEA said.

The organization noted that natural-gas prices, at $3.49 per million British thermal units (BTU), are already on the rise compared to last year, when they settled at $2.45 per million Btu. That trajectory could continue, facilitating a shift back to coal-fired generation, it said.

“In the absence of environmental or other regulations posing additional restrictions on CO2 emissions standards on existing power plants, existing coal plants could again become economic relative to gas for natural gas prices in the range $4.5-5ͬ/MBtu or higher,” the IEA said.

Noting regional differences in slashing emissions, the agency offered four solutions to help rein in pollution from the energy industry.

It suggested beefing up energy efficiency measures in all sectors, curtailing construction and use of inefficient coal-fired power plants, moving to halve methane emissions from oil-and-gas refineries and partially ramping down fossil fuel consumption subsidies.

“Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue,” Faith Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, said of the agency's suggestions.

The environmental community welcomed the recommendations, though it regarded the guidelines as too weak.

“Unfortunately, the other policies are incomplete, not ambitious enough or regionally biased. With the world on track for catastrophic levels of global warming, as the IEA says, these stop-gap proposals simply don’t go far enough,” Samantha Smith, the World Wildlife Fund’s climate and energy leader, said in a statement.