Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States rebounded sharply in 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry rose 6.2% in 2021 as the economy began to recover from pandemic lows...


WASHINGTON – U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry rose 6.2% in 2021 as the economy began to recover from pandemic lows and power plants in the coal revived, preliminary study finds estimate published Monday by the Rhodium group.

The rebound was not a complete surprise: the country’s emissions had fell more than 10 percent in 2020, the biggest year-on-year drop on record, after the first coronavirus outbreak triggered widespread lockdowns and energy use plunged to its lowest level in decades. As restrictions have eased and economic activity has picked up, emissions are expected to rebound.

“If anything, last year’s rebound in emissions was lower than it could have been because the pandemic is still causing disruption and the economy has not returned to normal,” said said Kate Larsen, partner of Rhodium Group, a research and consultancy firm. . “Emissions are still well below 2019 levels.”

The rise in emissions underscored the challenges President Biden faces in his quest to pull the nation away from oil, gas and coal and help avoid a drastic rise in global temperatures.

Mr Biden has set a goal of reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which is about the pace that scientists say the entire world must follow suit to prevent the Earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and to minimize the risk of catastrophic effects. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius over the past century.

But after the rebound last year, US emissions are only 17.4% below 2005 levels, estimated the Rhodium Group. Many recent studies found that the United States is likely far from meeting Mr. Biden’s climate goals without major new policies to accelerate the transition to wind, solar and other clean energy.

If Mr. Biden can adopt these policies is a major question: Its Build Back Better Act – which contains $ 555 billion in spending and tax incentives for renewables, electric cars, and other climate programs – remains in limbo on Capitol Hill. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, a decisive vote for Democrats, has so far been reluctant to support the legislation, although Democrats are expected to try again this year. Republicans have consistently opposed the bill.

A recent analysis by researchers at Princeton University found that the bill, if passed in its current form, could potentially get the United States most of the way to its climate goal, tripling or quadrupling the pace of wind and solar energy installations, accelerating sales of electric vehicles, and prompting utilities to pull out more coal-fired power plants over the next decade.

For now, however, the United States remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels to fuel its economy.

Transport, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the country, saw its emissions increase by 10% in 2021 after a drop of 15% in 2020, estimated the Rhodium Group. Much of that rebound is due to an increase in the number of diesel trucks carrying goods to consumers as e-commerce has increased, with freight traffic exceeding pre-pandemic levels last year.

Passenger car and plane travel was slower to recover as uncertainty surrounding the new variants disrupted travel plans and kept many at home. Gasoline consumption only returned to 2019 levels in October, while demand for jet fuel remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

There are signs that the vehicles on the roads are starting to change: Sales of electric cars, a key technology for reducing emissions, hit record highs in 2021, representing 5 percent of all new car sales in the third quarter, according to Atlas Public Policy, a research firm. But electric cars are not yet widespread enough to significantly reduce emissions, and few trucks have been electrified to date.

Coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, also made a comeback last year, with emissions from coal-fired power plants rising 17% in 2021 after dropping 19% in 2020. While the America still burns much less coal than it used to be. ten years ago, the fuel is far from dead.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, U.S. electric utilities pulled out hundreds of coal-fired power plants, replacing them with cheaper and cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power. Then, in 2020, electricity consumption fell nationwide and many utilities ran their remaining coal plants much less often, because it was often the most expensive fuel.

But that momentum reversed last year: While natural gas prices nearly doubled in 2021, in part due to a cold winter and increased exports, many utilities returned more often. to the operation of their coal-fired power stations. (On average, burning coal for electricity produces twice as much carbon dioxide as burning natural gas, although using natural gas also creates a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.)

“This really illustrates how much we have depended on low natural gas prices to keep coal down,” Ms. Larsen said. “Overall, we still expect coal to continue declining in the years to come, but unless new policies are put in place to clean up the power sector, the coal industry could see a lifeline if there are big swings in the gas market. “

A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration predicted that coal emissions would likely fall again next year if natural gas prices stabilized. Electric utilities have already announced their intention to retire at least 28 percent of their remaining coal-fired power plants by 2035, the agency said. And power companies have installed new wind turbines and solar panels at a record pace over the past two years.

Yet meeting Mr Biden’s climate targets will be intimidating: To do so, the Rhodium Group estimated that the United States should reduce its emissions by about 5% each year by 2030, which is a much faster pace. faster than that of the country. achieve before the pandemic. Last month, the solar industry warned that new installations could slow down in 2022 due to supply chain constraints and rising material costs.

The Rhodium group also noted that the United States has made little progress in reducing emissions from two other major sectors: industry and construction.

Emissions from heavy industry, such as cement and steel, rose 3.6% in 2021 after falling 6.2% in 2020. These factories, which account for about one-fifth of the country’s emissions, could be difficult to clean without new technologies, and industrial emissions have remained largely stable since 2005.

Homes and buildings also produce emissions directly by burning fossil fuels such as natural gas in heaters, water heaters, stoves, ovens and clothes dryers. Emissions from buildings increased by 1.9% in 2021 after a decrease of 7.6% in 2020.

The Rhodium Group report only looked at emissions from energy and industrial sources and did not look at sectors such as agriculture. It also did not take into account the increase in emissions resulting from last year’s forest fires in California, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, which burned millions of acres of forests and grasslands, sending the carbon dioxide that had been locked in all those trees into the atmosphere.

Using satellite data, the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service estimated in December that last year’s North American wildfires emitted 83 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. While forests that have caught fire may eventually grow back, soaking up carbon dioxide as they do, this process will take years. And scientists have warned that forest fires will become larger and more frequent as the planet warms.

The United States was not the only country to see a significant rebound in fossil fuel use last year. In November, researchers from the Global Carbon Project valued global carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry increased 4.9% in 2021, following a 5.4% decline in 2020. China, India and the European Union have all seen significant increases, suggesting that any climate effect of the pandemic was short-lived.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States rebounded sharply in 2021
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