(Adds details, comments from environmentalist)
By Timothy Gardner
NEW YORK, Nov 28 (Reuters) - U.S. emissions of the gases blamed for global warming fell 1.5 percent in 2006 on mild weather and high fossil fuel prices, the statistics arm of the Department of Energy estimated on Wednesday.
President George W. Bush said in a release that the drop kept the country "well ahead" of his greenhouse gas intensity goal, as measured by the amount of such gases emitted per unit of economic activity.
But U.S. emissions remained much higher than they were in 1990, a key year in international efforts to fight climate change because it is the baseline year for the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol. Rich countries that signed the pact have to cut their emissions at least 5 percent under their 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year fell to about 7.08 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, the DOE’s Energy Information Administration estimated. It was the first annual fall in U.S. emissions since 2001, when tourism travel slowed after the airplane attacks in New York and Washington, and the third since 1990.
Unseasonably cool weather in the summer and warm weather in the winter kept power demand flat last year which reduced emissions of CO2 from power plants, while higher prices for energy cut emissions from industry and cars, the report said.
The annual report was released ahead of a meeting of delegates from 190 countries in Bali, Indonesia, next month to decide how to bind outsiders including the United States and China into a U.N.-led fight against climate change.
"United States looks forward to working with partners to reach consensus on a ‘Bali Roadmap’ at the upcoming U.N. meeting on climate change in Indonesia," Bush said in the release.
The United States, which since the beginning of the oil age has emitted more of the gases than any other country, does not regulate the gases scientists say could spark an increase in deadly storms, droughts and floods. Bush pulled the country out of the Kyoto pact, saying it would hurt the economy and unfairly leave rapidly developing countries without limits.
Instead, Bush set a goal in 2002 of cutting greenhouse gas intensity 18 percent by 2012. The intensity fell last year by 4.2 percent, or more than double the average 2 percent decline since 1990, and has fallen about 10 percent from 2002 to 2006, the EIA said.
But Phil Clapp, president of nonprofit group the National Environmental Trust, said Bush is on the defensive ahead of Bali because Australia, the only other rich country not to sign Kyoto, may soon ratify the pact.
"That gives the Bush administration every incentive to take credit even for declines in greenhouse pollution that are due to weather and $3 a gallon (gasoline) prices," he said in an interview.
The report said U.S. emissions of gases, including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, were 15.1 percent higher last year than in 1990.
And as energy demand and the U.S. population increase, the country’s CO2 emissions, which account for more than 80 percent of the gases, should rise at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent from 2004 to 2030, it said. (Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Washington; editing by Jim Marshall)