Climate change: US emissions in 2020 in biggest fall since WWII

13 Janvier, 2021, 23:12 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • US carbon emissions fell 10% in 2020

Owing to the economic shutdown caused by coronavirus, emissions reportedly dropped by 21.5 per cent, when compared to 2005.

The drop implies that the USA would be able to outperform the pledge it had made as part of the Copenhagen climate accord to reduce emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

U.S. climate action has stalled under President Donald Trump, but President-elect Joe Biden has promised to put climate at the center of his agenda. That might look like a significant drop, but it won't make any meaningful difference to climate change.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries, and last year's decline is little more than a blip on the graph. On Monday, the International Energy Agency said it would publish a detailed blueprint in May for how the global economy could reach net-zero emissions by 2050, noting that the worldwide drop in greenhouse gas emissions previous year was likely to prove temporary unless nations took the opportunity to rethink their reliance on fossil fuels. To reach that goal, greenhouse emissions need to drop dramatically and soon. The United States produced roughly as much electricity from renewable sources previous year as it did from coal, a milestone that has never been reached before. To achieve that, the world needs to radically change the way it sources its energy.

Transport suffered the biggest decline, with emissions down nearly 15% over 2019. The drop in emissions was much larger than what was seen during the 2009 recession, when emissions lid by 6.3 per cent.

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

"The most significant reductions a year ago were around transportation, which remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels", said Kate Larsen, a director at Rhodium Group, a research and consulting firm.

2020 was meant to be the year of climate action. Instead it crowned a wasted decade

The Rhodium Group said that at the peak of lockdowns in April and May, demand for jet fuel had dropped 68% year on year, with gasoline down 40% and diesel 18% lower.

But there are signs the drop was just temporary. Americans drove 15% fewer miles in 2020 compared to 2019, with demand for jet fuel one-third down.

Emissions from heavy industries such as cement also dropped 7%, with automakers and manufacturers producing fewer goods amid the economic drop.

In the electricity sector, emissions plunged by 10.3% in 2020, driven by a sharp decline in coal burning.

About a fifth, or 20%, of U.S. power was generated by burning coal in 2020, compared to 24% in 2019. The share of renewables rose to 18% previous year from 16% in 2019. But this was mostly owed to the coronavirus pandemic and not because of any significant climate action - which means the United States still has a long way to go to get its emissions under control.

It was a big year for renewable energy in the United States, with many energy companies building a record number of wind farms and solar plants ahead of a deadline to claim a federal tax credit.

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