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Energy and the environment explained Outlook for future emissions

EIA projects U.S. total annual carbon dioxide emissions to be lower in 2050

In the Annual Energy Outlook 2021 (AEO2021) Reference case, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that changes over time in energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reflect the projected shift in fuel consumption and energy mix. In the projection, CO2 emissions decrease from 2023 to 2035 as a result of a transition away from more emission-intensive coal and a rise in the use of natural gas and renewable energy. After 2035, U.S. CO2 emissions begin to trend upward, reflecting the overall increase in the use of energy as a result of increasing population and economic growth. EIA projects that total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2050 will be about 4,807 million metric tons, or about 5% more than the amount in 2020. The AEO2021 Reference case generally assumes that current laws and regulations that affect the energy sector, including laws that have end dates, are unchanged throughout the projection period.

Line graph showing projected U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions attributed to major energy consuming sectors from 1990 to 2050 in EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2021 Reference case.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2021, February 2021

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Line graph showing projected U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of coal, natural gas, and petroleum fuels from 1990 to 2050 in EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2021 Reference case.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2021, February 2021

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World CO2 emissions are projected to increase

EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019) Reference case projects that global energy-related CO2 emissions will grow 0.6% per year from 2018 to 2050.1 However, projected future growth in energy-related CO2 emissions is not evenly distributed across the world: relatively developed economies collectively have no emissions growth, so all of the projected future growth in energy-related CO2 emissions is among the group of countries outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Line graph showing projected world energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 to 2050 for OECD and non-OECD countries in EIA's International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case.

Note: OECD is Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019, September 2019

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1 Note: the International Energy Outlook 2020 (IEO2020) does not contain projections for global energy-related CO2 emissions. Those projections will be included in the IEO2021.

Last updated: February 16, 2021