Energy & Environment

Carbon emissions rise, still below pre-pandemic levels: study

American greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.3 percent last year but did not fully rebound to their levels before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a preliminary analysis published Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.

Despite the increase from 2021, the report found that the emission rebound did not outpace economic growth in 2022 as it did the previous year. In 2021, emissions increased by 6.5 percent, compared to a 5.9 percent rise in gross domestic product. The report attributes that dynamic not being repeated in 2022 to a decrease in electric power sector emissions, largely driven by the replacement of coal with natural gas and renewable energy.  

Emissions from the power sector, the source of over a quarter of overall U.S. emissions, fell 1 percent last year, according to the report. Meanwhile, coal generation fell 8 percent from the previous year, restarting a longtime decline after 2021 saw a slight uptick. The past year saw the retirement of coal-fired generators, as well as disruptions in delivery of coal to power plants by rail. The report projects these factors, and the decline in coal prices they caused, cut the share of overall electricity generation coal represents, from 23 percent in 2021 to 20 percent in 2022.

Meanwhile, renewable energy generation was up 12 percent from 2021, while renewables represented a greater share of total power generation than coal for the first time in decades.

Despite this, however, the report suggests the U.S. is not on track to meet the Biden administration’s goal of cutting national emissions by half compared to 2005 by 2030, the estimated level needed to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The two highest-emitting sectors in the U.S., transportation and industry, saw emissions increases of 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent respectively last year. The resumption of air travel after a dropoff in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a particular driver of transportation emissions.

The analysis called the Inflation Reduction Act President Biden signed last year “a significant turning point” in staying on track for emission goals, but said “more aggressive” policies will be needed to meet the 50 percent goal by decade’s end. It recommends pursuing aggressive regulatory policies within federal agencies as well as taking action at the state level and within the private sector.

“These actions … can put the target within reach—but all parties must act quickly,” the report states.

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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