Economy grows as CO2 emissions drop, making mockery of Trump climate policy

GDP growth decouples from carbon pollution, thanks to efficiency, natural gas, and renewables.

Coal miners wave signs as candidate Donald Trump speaks during a May 5, 2016 rally in West Virginia. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber
Coal miners wave signs as candidate Donald Trump speaks during a May 5, 2016 rally in West Virginia. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

The premise of President Donald Trump’s plan to kill the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon pollution standards is that restricting CO2 hurts the economy. But Trump’s oft-repeated claim that EPA standards kill jobs is bogus.

“Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew,” the International Energy Agency reported Friday, “signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity.”

In fact, while CO2 emissions were flat, the global economy grew 3.1 percent.

“Renewables, coal-to-gas switching, and improvements in energy efficiency contributed to stalling emissions growth last year,” the IEA explained. “In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth.”

What has been happening in this country is even more remarkable. The IEA noted, “emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80 percent.”

The decoupling of economic growth from carbon pollution in this country really took off from 2000–2015, as the Brookings Institution reported in December.

U.S. GDP (blue) has grown 30 percent from 2000–2015, while CO2 emissions have dropped 10 percent.
U.S. GDP (blue) has grown 30 percent from 2000–2015, while CO2 emissions have dropped 10 percent.

The decoupling trend continued last year, where the U.S. led the way again in slashing carbon pollution, as the IEA noted: “The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 percent, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6 percent.”

In addition, the IEA pointed out that “coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11 percent in 2016.” This is yet more evidence that Trump’s promises to bring back coal and coal jobs amount to little more than hot air.

“In China, emissions fell by 1 percent last year, as coal demand declined while the economy expanded by 6.7 percent,” the IEA notes. China’s electricity demand grew 5.4 percent, and two thirds of that growth was supplied by carbon-free power.

Trump’s plan to undo the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, coupled with his similarly backward-looking budget proposals, won’t help the U.S. economy at all.

Quite the reverse, in fact. It will slow the economy by reducing US investment in clean energy. And it will cost us millions of jobs, as the rest of the world uses our historic blunder to leapfrog ahead of us in the clean technologies that have already started to dominate the global economy.