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In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama boasted about progress on climate change, citing reductions in carbon emissions.
"Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet," he said. "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods."
We wondered whether Obama was correct that "over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth."
We turned to data from the Energy Information Administration, a trusted source for all types of energy data run by the U.S. Energy Department. The agency has a table showing "total carbon dioxide emissions from the consumption of energy."
The data shows a mixed picture.
Obama is correct if you measure the total reduction in carbon emissions. Between 2003 and 2011 -- the latest eight-year period for which data is available -- the United States’ carbon emissions fell from 5.853 billion metric tons to 5.490 billion metric tons. That’s a reduction of 363 million metric tons -- far larger than any other country.
However, the statistic is not as enlightening as it would seem, because it fails to account for the relative size of countries.
A more useful comparison is to measure the percentage reduction for countries all around the world. We looked at the largest nations -- those with at least 100 million tons of carbon emissions in 2011 -- and found six other nations that managed to cut their carbon emissions more steeply than the United States did during the past eight years. They are:
Greece: -15 percent
Germany: -14 percent
United Kingdom: - 13 percent
Belgium: -13 percent
France: -8 percent
Spain: -8 percent
United States: -6 percent
To be fair, many nations increased their emissions over that period -- including such big economies as China, India and Russia -- and in this context, the scale of the United States’ cuts is impressive. Still, this suggests that a half-dozen advanced industrialized economies made emissions cuts that were larger, proportionately, than the United States achieved.
Obama said, "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth." Looked at by the total amount of emission reductions, Obama is right. But when you look at the scale of the cuts proportionately -- which puts nations on a more equal footing when making comparisons -- the United States did not achieve the kind of steep cuts that other industrialized countries did. We rate the claim Half True.
Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2014
Energy Information Administration, Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Consumption of Energy, accessed Jan. 28, 2014
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