Why don’t the new fuel economy standards impact global warming?

Today, the Obama Administration announced their new fuel economy standards and required automakers to produce cars and light trucks that get an average of 35.5 mpg by 2016, four years faster than the law passed in 2007. The Washington Post calls this the “White House’s most significant achievement yet in addressing global warming.” You would expect that the “most significant achievement yet in addressing global warming” would actually have an impact on global warming, but you would be wrong.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency itself, "global mean temperature is estimated to be reduced by 0.006 to 0.015 °C by 2100 . . . and sea-level rise is projected to be reduced by approximately 0.06-0.14cm by 2100." (See page 355 of the final rule.)

It might be surprising that a rule that will have serious repercussions for automobiles in the United States results in a climatically meaningless amount of reduction in global temperature, but that is because the vast majority of future greenhouse gas emissions are projected to come from the developing world. In fact, it’s already happening. According to the Global Carbon Project from over the past 10 years, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions only increased 2 percent while China’s carbon dioxide emissions increased 112 percent, India’s increased 53 percent, and Russia’s increased 12 percent. Even Japan, the country in which the Kyoto Protocol was signed saw its carbon dioxide emissions increase nearly 7 percent.

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So while forcing American to buy more fuel efficient cars might seem like a “significant achievement” in “addressing global warming,” it isn’t.

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