finding 19.1 : key-message-19-1

Emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the North American energy sector are a source of carbon to the atmosphere. Projections suggest that by 2040, total North American fossil fuel emissions will range from 1,504 to 1,777 teragrams of carbon (Tg C) per year, with most coming from the United States (~80%, or 1,259 to 1,445 Tg C per year). Compared to 2015 levels, these projections represent either a 12.8% decrease or a 3% increase in absolute emissions (high confidence).

This finding is from chapter 19 of Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR2): A Sustained Assessment Report.

Description of evidence base: The projections used in this analysis are from three sources: the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA 2017), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC 2016b), and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s International Energy Agency (IEA 2016).

EIA publishes projections in Annual Energy Outlook, which uses the National Energy Modeling System, an integrated model that aims to capture various interactions of economic changes and energy supply, demand, and prices. Typically, reference cases are built with assumptions about known technologies; current laws, regulations, and standards; and views of economic and demographic trends that conform to leading economic forecasters and demographers. These cases are compared to a series of side cases. In the case of EIA, these side scenarios include high and low prices of oil, high and low economic growth, and whether or not the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan ( is implemented.

The ECCC model includes 1) a reference case “with current measures;” 2) actions taken by governments, consumers, and businesses up to 2013; and 3) future impacts of existing policies and measures put in place as of September 2015. The high emissions scenario uses high oil and gas prices and higher-than-average annual growth in gross domestic product (GDP). The low emissions scenario uses low world oil and gas price projections and slower GDP growth. ECCC also uses the Energy, Emissions and Economy Model for Canada (E3MC). E3MC has two components: 1) Energy 2020, which incorporates Canada’s energy supply and demand structure, and 2) the in-house macroeconomic model of the Canadian economy. Modeling estimates are subject to consultations with various stakeholders (including provincial and territorial governments) to review modeling assumptions, implemented policies and measures, and emissions estimates. The modeling assumptions also undergo a periodic external review process.

IEA (2016) produced a special report on Mexico’s energy outlook in light of the energy reform efforts (Reforma Energetica) that Mexico initiated in 2013, which brought an end to long-standing monopolies within the energy sector. According to IEA (2016), total energy demand has grown by 25% since 2000 and electricity consumption by 50%. IEA uses three scenarios for its global projections and deployed them for the Mexican study: 1) “New Policies,” 2) “Current Policies,” and 3) “450,” which is largely aspirational. The New Policies scenario is the central case informed by an approximately 20% increase in energy demand and a growth rate averaging 0.7% per year. As in the other scenarios, IEA decouples energy demand growth from economic growth, reflecting a structure shift in economies, a growing service sector, and energy-efficiency improvements.

New information and remaining uncertainties: Energy market projections and fossil fuel emissions futures are subject to uncertainty because many factors that shape energy decisions and future developments in technologies, demographics, and resources cannot be foreseen with certainty. These factors include economic and demographic growth, energy prices, technological innovation and adoption, government policies, laws and regulations, and international conditions. In addition, while attempts were made to standardize the sources and gases in inventories across nations, differences in greenhouse gas protocols (see Appendix E: Fossil Fuel Emissions Estimates for North America) prevented complete consistency.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence: Although there is uncertainty in individual projections and in projecting trends in energy markets, all estimates agree that emissions from fossil fuel combustion in North America are a source of carbon to the atmosphere and will continue to be a source into the future.

This finding was derived from figure P.2: P.2. Likelihood and Confidence Evaluation

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