US greenhouse gas emissions jump sharply in 2021


Biden has set a goal of reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Aram Boghosian / The Greeley Tribune Globe / File

WASHINGTON — America’s greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry rose 6.2% in 2021 as the economy began to recover from the pandemic and the nation’s coal plants returned to life, according to a report. preliminary estimate Published on Mondays by Rhodium Group.

The rebound wasn’t a total surprise: the country’s emissions were fell more than 10% in 2020, the biggest one-year drop on record, after the initial coronavirus outbreak triggered widespread lockdowns and energy use fell to its lowest level in decades. As restrictions were eased and economic activity picked up, emissions were expected to bounce back again.

“If anything, last year’s rebound in emissions could have been lower because the pandemic is still causing disruption and the economy is not getting back to normal,” said Kate Larsen, partner at research and consulting firm Rhodium Group. , “Emissions are still well below 2019 levels.”

The rise in emissions underscored the challenges that President Joe Biden faced in his quest to help the country move away from oil, gas and coal and stem a massive rise in global temperatures.

Biden has set a goal of reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, which is roughly what scientists say will help the entire world warm the Earth by 1.5 °C (2.7 °F). Must be followed to avoid overheating. ) above pre-industrial levels and reducing the risk of catastrophic impacts. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 °C over the past century.

But after last year’s rebound, US emissions are now down just 17.4% from 2005 levels, the Rhodium Group estimates. Many recent studies The United States has little chance of achieving Biden’s climate goals without major new policies to accelerate the transition to wind, solar and other clean energy.

Can Biden Enforce These Policies? a major question: His Build Back Better Act – which includes $555 billion in spending and tax incentives for renewable energy, electric cars and other climate programs – is in limbo on Capitol Hill. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.VA, a key swing vote, has so far shied away from supporting the legislation, though Democrats are expected to try again this year. Republicans have similarly opposed the bill.

A recent analysis led by researchers at Princeton University found that if the bill is passed in its current form, it could get the United States Most of the way to your climate goal, by tripling or quadrupling the speed of wind and solar power installations, accelerating sales of electric vehicles, and boosting utilities to retire more coal plants over the next decade.

However, for now, the United States is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to power its economy.

Transport, the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gases, saw emissions rise 10% in 2021 after a 15% drop in 2020, the Rhodium Group estimates. Much of that rebound was driven by diesel-fueled trucks carrying goods to consumers as e-commerce increased, with freight moving above pre-pandemic levels last year.

Passenger travel in cars and airplanes has been slow to recover, as uncertainty about the new variants disrupted travel plans and kept many people at home. Gasoline consumption did not return to 2019 levels until October, while jet fuel demand remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

There are indications that the vehicles are beginning to shift. Sales of electric cars, a key technology for cutting emissions, hit a record high in 2021, accounting for 5% of all new car sales in the third quarterAccording to Atlas Public Policy, a research firm. But electric cars are not yet widespread enough to make a big dent in emissions, and few trucks have been electrified to date.

Coal, the most polluting of all fossil fuels, also made a big comeback last year, with emissions from coal-fired power plants rising 17% in 2021 after a 19% drop in 2020. Whereas America is still burning far less coal than that. Decades ago, fuel is far from dead.

In the years before the pandemic hit, America’s electric utilities were retiring hundreds of coal plants, replacing them with cheaper and cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power. Then, in 2020, electricity usage decreased across the country and many utilities run your remaining coal plants Much less often, as it was often the most expensive fuel.

But that dynamic reversed last year. As natural gas prices nearly doubled in 2021, driven by a cold winter and rising exports, many utilities switched back to running their coal plants more frequently. (On average, burning coal for electricity produces twice as much carbon dioxide as burning natural gas, although using natural gas also produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.)

“It really shows how much we have relied on cheap natural gas prices to keep coal in decline,” Larsen said. “Overall, we still expect a further decline in coal in the coming years, but unless new policies are put in place to clean up the power sector, the coal industry will be at a risk of major volatility in the gas market. Can see the lifeline.”

a recent report The US Energy Information Administration forecasts that coal emissions will drop again next year if natural gas prices stabilize. Electric utilities have already announced plans to retire at least 28% of their remaining coal plants by 2035, the agency said. And power companies installed new wind turbines and solar panels at a record pace over the past two years.

Still, Biden’s climate goals will be hard to meet. To do so, the Rhodium Group has estimated that the United States would need to cut emissions by about 5% each year between now and 2030, a much faster pace than in the country before the pandemic.

Last month, the solar industry warning That new installations could be slow in 2022 due to supply-chain bottlenecks and rising costs.

The Rhodium Group also noted that the United States has made little progress in cutting emissions from industry and buildings.

Emissions from heavy industry such as cement and steel grew by 3.6% in 2021 after declining 6.2% in 2020. Such factories, which account for about a fifth of the country’s emissions, can prove difficult to clean Without new technologies, and industrial emissions have remained largely flat since 2005.

Homes and buildings also have direct emissions from burning fossil fuels in furnaces, hot water heaters, stoves, ovens and clothes dryers. Building emissions increased by 1.9% in 2021 after a 7.6% drop in 2020.

The Rhodium Group report only looked at emissions from energy and industrial sources and did not look at sectors such as agriculture. This resulted in no increase in emissions from last year’s wildfire In California, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest, that burned down millions of acres of forests and grasslands, sending carbon dioxide locked up in all those trees into the atmosphere.

The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, using satellite data estimated in december That last year’s North American wildfires emitted 83 million tons of carbon dioxide. While forests that went up in flames may eventually grow back, absorbing carbon dioxide, the process would take years. And scientists warn that as the planet warms, wildfires will be bigger and more frequent.

The United States wasn’t the only country that saw a major rebound in fossil fuel use last year. In November, researchers from the Global Carbon Project Estimated That global carbon-dioxide emissions from energy and industry rose by 4.9% in 2021, after declining 5.4% in 2020. China, India and the European Union all had major increases, suggesting that any climate impacts from the pandemic were transitory.

This article originally appeared in the new York Times,