According to a new report, US greenhouse gas emissions fell by 10.3% in 2020, the largest drop in emissions since World War II, as COVID-19 crippled the economy. However, without urgent climate action, it is feared that emissions will bounce back quickly.
What is Happening?
- The report, written by private data analytics firm the Rhodium Group, found that the economic fallout from the spread of the pandemic, especially in highly-emitting sectors like transportation, power and industry- resulted in a steeper emissions drop than the 2009 recession, when emissions slid 6.3%.
- Leading the decline in emissions was the transportation sector, which saw an emissions reduction of 14.7% from 2019 levels. Power plant emissions was second, dropping 10.3% below 2019 levels due to retirements of coal-fired power plants and a decline in demand for electricity. Emissions from industrial activities fell 7% in 2020.
- This COVID-19 – driven drop means that the US would outperform its Copenhagen pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, with a 21.5% reduction overall since 2005. However, the report warns that this should not be seen as a guarantee that the US can easily meet its more ambitious targets under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
- President-elect Joe Biden has a mammoth task ahead of him; Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement, but Biden has said he will rejoin as soon as he is inaugurated on January 20. He plans to set the country on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050 but will first need to announce a target for reducing emissions by 2030.
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The authors say, “With coronavirus vaccines now in distribution, we expect economic activity to pick up again in 2021, but without meaningful structural changes in the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy, emissions will likely rise again as well.”
- Since reaching a peak in 2007, US emissions have declined by 1.3% per year on average.
- Globally, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by around 7% last year. However, this is unlikely to make any meaningful difference to climate change. In November 2020, the World Meteorological Organization said that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere surged to a new record high.
- The UN says that to stay within the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit as defined by the Paris Agreement, emissions need to drop by 7.6% every year from 2020 to 2030.