US carbon emissions to rise in 2022, even if renewables overtake coal

US energy and industrial greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.3% in 2022, continuing to recover from a sudden pandemic-induced decline in 2020 but not quite reaching pre-pandemic levels. , according to preliminary estimates released Tuesday by the Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan research firm.

Emissions rise even as renewables overtake coal power nationally for the first time in more than six decades, with wind, solar and hydro generating 22% of the country’s electricity compared with 20% from coal. Growth in power generation from natural gas also offset the decline in coal.

Ben King, deputy director of the Rhodium Group and author of the report, said the new estimate puts the nation’s emissions back on a long-term trajectory after nearly two years of Covid-related hiatus.

“We’re basically on the same trajectory we’ve been on since the mid-2000s,” he said, calling it “long-term structural decline,” but “ongoing decline,” he said. out not fast enough.”

Two years ago, President Biden promised to speed things up, setting a goal of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, an amount deemed consistent with the limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Beyond that threshold, the scientists say, the risk of climate catastrophe, including life-threatening heat waves and food and water scarcity, would increase dramatically. The planet has warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius over the past century.

But analysis by the Rhodium Group shows the country is not on track to achieve Biden’s goal:

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark tax and climate law, is supposed to help bend the emissions curve closer to the 2030 target, but even it is likely to fall short. deficit.

Emissions estimates reflect a continued recovery from pandemic lows in 2020. The initial outbreak of the coronavirus caused widespread lockdowns and slashed U.S. energy use. to their lowest levels in decades, with emissions plummeting more than 10%. They recovered 6.2% in 2021 as the economy began to recover, but ongoing supply chain disruptions and new variants of the coronavirus have hampered the recovery’s momentum. The smaller emissions increase in 2022 comes amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, which led to a global energy crisis and high inflation.

Emissions from power generation fell as renewables and natural gas displace coal, which has a small and short-term increase in 2021 due to high natural gas prices. Natural gas emits less carbon than coal, but burning it produces more methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency estimates that renewables are on track to overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation worldwide by early 2025, as countries respond to disruption of war-related fossil fuel supplies in Ukraine by enacting stronger policies to redirect away from oil, gas and coal carbon emissions.

However, the United States made little progress last year in one of the two highest-emitting sectors, transportation and industry, which together account for about two-thirds of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. . Industrial emissions up 1.5% and transportation emissions up 1.3%, driven mainly by jet fuel demand as air travel continues to recover from a pandemic slump .

Some experts hope that provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act could provide money to help accelerate the decarbonization of industrial plants and reduce fossil fuel emissions from heavy industry. including cement and steel production. The law also extends consumption tax credits to electric vehicles, which typically produce less emissions than gasoline-powered vehicles.

The most significant increase in emissions last year came from households and buildings that burn fossil fuels such as natural gas in furnaces, water heaters and other appliances. Those emissions have increased by 6% and reached pre-pandemic levels. Colder-than-average temperatures at the start of the year prompted many Americans to increase their home energy use by raising the temperature.

Estimates from the Rhodium Corporation do not include emissions from agriculture or from wildfires, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they burn forests and grasslands. Agriculture is a major driver of climate change, with agricultural activities accounting for 11.2% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2020, according to estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Mr. King said the report had some good news: Last year, the country’s economic growth, as measured by GDP, outstripped the rate of increase in emissions, suggesting the economy is less carbon-intensive. “Decoupling” economic growth from fossil fuel consumption is crucial in charting an economically sustainable path towards decarbonisation.

“We have seen the challenges that come when reducing emissions is tied to falling GDP,” he said. “Let’s look at 2020.”


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