As negotiations resume in Bonn on a new treaty to save the planet from global warming, the United States said Monday that its emissions of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere grew last year at the highest rate since the nation pledged to cut them back.
Emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases grew 3.4 percent in 1996, the latest year for which comprehensive estimates are available, the Energy Department said in a report. The department attributed the increase to strong economic growth, unusually severe weather and increased use of coal by electric utilities.
Emissions from energy use in residential and commercial buildings grew 6.3 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, despite programs intended to increase energy efficiency.
At the same time, growing consumption of fuel by less efficient cars and light trucks suggests that motor vehicles may soon overtake industry as the largest source of emissions of heat-trapping gases, the report said.
“The economy is booming, energy prices are relatively low, and a lot of people are paying a lot less attention to energy efficiency,” said Steven Nadel, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit research organization.
“If you have unfettered energy use and big economic growth,” Nadel said, “it is not surprising that carbon emissions are going to increase. We need more active and aggressive policies. Laissez-faire does not work.”
The report is acutely embarrassing to American negotiators at the climate talks because the United States, with less than a 20th of the world’s population, gives off almost a fourth of the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, threatening widespread climate change.
In a treaty on climate change signed by 160 nations in 1992, the United States and other industrial countries pledged to reduce their emissions of such gases to the level of 1990 by 2000.
But U.S. emissions in 1996 were 7.4 percent above 1990 levels, the report said. For some time the Clinton administration has been forecasting that by the end of the decade, emissions of the gases in the United States will be 13 percent higher than in 1990. With the economy still growing and people driving farther in cars that use more gasoline per mile, the upward trend is widely expected to continue unless new measures are taken to control energy use.
The parties to the treaty are meeting in Bonn this week to try to negotiate a new, binding agreement that cuts emissions beyond 2000. The talks are supposed to conclude in December in Kyoto, Japan.
European nations, saying they are well on their way to achieving the target for 2000, are pressing for deeper cuts in emissions by 2010, but the United States has called such goals unrealistic.