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U.S. Carbon Emissions On the Rise

January 17, 2019

U.S. Carbon Emissions On the Rise

January 17, 2019

New research has found that after three years of decline, carbon emissions in the United States are on the rise again.

Rhodium Group Carbon Emission Report 2015-2018
Source: Rhodium Group

Rhodium Group's research has found that U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose sharply during 2018. Their analysis was based on preliminary power generation, natural gas, and oil consumption data over the course of last year. Their data showed that carbon emissions increased by 3.4%, which Rhodium Group reports is "the second largest annual gain in more than two decades."

One of the biggest culprit for this increase is the energy sector. While there has been a record amount of coal closures, natural gas has stepped in to replace those energy needs, while also feeding the majority of load growth in 2018. Even though wind and solar power sources have seen a small increase in usage, natural gas' kWh increase is four times their growth in the past year. Because of gas' performance, the U.S. power sector saw an increase in emissions by 34 million metric tons in 2018.

The U.S. power sector was not the only significant factor in this carbon emission increase. According to the Rhodium Group, the transportation sector was the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S. in 2018, and their emissions steadily have steadily increased by 1% every year since 2016. This sector has maintained the top position for three years in a row. One of the reasons for transportation's dominance is the increase in air travel and trucking's demand for diesel and jet fuel as the economy grew in 2018.

Trevor Houser, Rhodium Group's Energy and Climate team leader, explained to CNN that affordable technology that can grow the economy while reducing emissions does exist, but policy must deploy this type of technology in the market. "And we've seen a freeze in that kind of policy at the federal level over the past few years."

The transportation sector isn't the only one with not enough decarbonization policy. The Rhodium Group also listed the building and infrastructure sectors as ones to look out for. The report explained that "the largest emissions growth in 2018 occurred in the two sectors more often ignored in clean energy and climate policymaking: buildings and industry." The building sector saw a 10% increase in carbon emissions and the industrial sector posted the largest emissions gains in 2018 at 55 million metric tons. The Rhodium Group analysis warned that without a significant change in policy or a significant technological breakthrough, the industrial sector is likely to become responsible for a large share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and may even overtake the power sector in certain states by 2022.

This increase in carbon emissions puts the U.S. at great risk of not being able to reach the Paris Agreement's emission goals for 2025. To meet the Paris Agreement's targets, the U.S. must experience a 26-28% reduction in carbon emissions in 2025 in comparison to 2005. To reach this target, the U.S. must reduce CO2 emissions by 2.6% on average for the next seven years, which the Rhodium Group reports is "more than twice the pace the U.S. achieved between 2005 and 2017." The Copenhagen target is more doable, with the U.S. carbon emissions needing to reduce by an average of 3.3% per year to 2020, but it still seems very unlikely.

Unless there are drastic changes in U.S. climate policy and infrastructure regulation, carbon emissions are expected to continue to rise, making the U.S.' chances of reaching the Paris Agreement targets slimmer every year.

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