January 12, 2022
The rise in the nation’s emissions, which many experts anticipate will continue this year, is a sign of an economy on the mend. But it also signals a potentially ominous climate reality: The United States is not yet emerging from the coronavirus pandemic with a greener economy, making it that much harder for Biden to deliver on his pledge to cut the nation’s emissions in half by 2030.
Larsen added that the surge in coal generation was “almost entirely due to high natural gas prices” as oil and gas producers curbed new production in response to lower global demand because of pandemic lockdowns. “Emissions from our power sector were pretty much at the whim of energy markets,” she said.
The nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions — transportation — also saw the steepest rebound during 2021, rising 10 percent over the previous year, Rhodium found. The arrival of coronavirus vaccines and the nation’s fitful efforts to emerge from the pandemic meant more Americans traveled on roads and in the skies than in 2020. But road freight was the only mode of transportation that rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, as thousands of diesel-powered trucks rumbled along the nation’s highways to deliver consumer goods.
Separately on Monday, scientists with the European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that the last seven years were the Earth’s hottest on record. Globally, 2021 was the fifth-warmest ever recorded, the scientists found, and atmospheric concentrations of the potent gases carbon dioxide and methane continued to rise.
“We’re going to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by well over a gigaton by 2030, while making it more affordable for consumers to save on their own energy bills with tax credits for things like installing solar panels, weatherizing their homes, lowering energy prices,” Biden told fellow world leaders at a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
He promised to electrify school bus fleets, increase tax credits for electric vehicles, ramp up construction of solar panels and wind turbines and incentivize cleaner manufacturing — all while creating well-paying union jobs.
Biden used his executive authority during his first year in office to jump-start an array of climate policies, including proposing tougher tailpipe emissions standards for new cars and requiring the federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050. But a major piece of his climate agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are still struggling to pass their roughly $1.75 trillion climate and social spending bill.
The Build Back Better Act contains a historic $555 billion package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at reducing emissions and boosting clean energy. But Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said in late December that he could not support the legislation, potentially dooming its chances in the Senate.
“I’ve been a proponent of executive action, particularly in the face of Republican opposition, going back to Clinton. And I certainly would urge them to use every tool they have. But without these investments, you just can’t get the job done,” said Podesta, who is also the founder of the Center for American Progress and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
Earth has warmed roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times. Two weeks of international talks in Glasgow this past fall led to promises to reduce methane emissions, halt deforestation and stop the funding of coal power, but even then the U.N. Environment Program reported that the Earth remains on track to warm about 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century — though other analyses suggested that the number could drop if countries took swift action to fulfill their long-term pledges.
The Global Carbon Budget report, released in the middle of the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, said the world has only about 11 years of burning fossil fuels at the current rate if it hopes to hit the most ambitious goal of the Paris climate agreement: to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
But an initial drop in emissions that came in 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic shuttered factories, grounded planes and hindered economic activity across the globe proved to be little more than a blip on the world’s trajectory toward more warming.