United States emissions plummet to lowest levels in post-World War II era

Rodiano Bonacci
Gennaio 13, 2021

Last year, the United States experienced the largest drop in emissions since just after World War II, bringing us greenhouse gas emissions down to below 1990 levels. Instead, they used more natural gas - which produces less carbon dioxide than coal, but still generates significant heat-trapping methane - and drew more heavily on emissions-free wind and solar power.

Global Carbon Project estimates that emissions of heat-trapping gases decreased by around 7% globally previous year.

The report by the Rhodium Group said the emissions decline in the U.S. previous year outpaced the Great Recession of 2009 when emissions dipped 6.3%.

Transportation, which accounts for nearly a third of all United States emissions, was the biggest victim of the downturn.

Energy emissions also fell sharply, due to a decline in the use of coal. But before that, he needs to announce plans for reducing emissions by 2030.

As part of that agreement, former President Barack Obama had pledged that USA emissions would fall 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

The overall fall of 10.3% essentially dwarves the impact of the great economic recession of 2009 on the United States, when emissions were down 6.3%. But this was mostly owed to the coronavirus pandemic and not because of any significant climate action - which means the U.S. still has a long way to go to get its emissions under control. Trump disavowed the Paris pact, and, before past year, it looked like the United States would miss that target.

About a fifth, or 20%, of United States power was generated by burning coal in 2020, compared to 24% in 2019. Emissions will truly drop by 21.5% compared with 2005.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, and last year's decline is little more than a blip on the graph.

Despite the drop previous year, the USA remains the world's second biggest emitter after China. And scientists have warned that wildfires will become larger and more frequent as the planet warms. Rhoidum said that a similar rebound happened after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, which caused emissions to drop.

"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 USA economy, emissions will likely rise again as well", the report by the research group said. Until humanity's emissions are essentially zeroed out and nations are no longer adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the planet will continue to heat up.

Biden intends to carve out to a path to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

And those efforts would need to be replicated across the globe.

The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere actually surged to a new record high past year, the World Meteorological Organization said in November.

"Nothing short of a total transformation of our energy infrastructure will be required", said Fatih Birol, the agency's executive director.

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