Despite some positive trends such as a greater share of renewable power generated, there is no justification for the world’s second largest emitter to be on an upward emissions trajectory
The Rhodium Group, a research organisation, published an estimate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the United States in 2022. It shows that emissions for the US rose by 1.3 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021. This is when the need of the hour is for emissions to progressively decline.
How the US responds to the climate crisis matters to the rest of the world since it is the world’s largest historical emitter of GHGs and the second-largest current emitter.
Power sector emissions declined by 1 per cent in 2022, due to a decrease in coal-powered generation. Transport emissions rose by 1.3 per cent, while industrial emissions rose by 1.5 per cent. Higher transport emissions were driven mainly by greater demand for jet fuel (increased air travel). The US typically has the highest per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from domestic air travel in the world — about 386 kilogram CO2 emitted per person.
Emissions from buildings showed the largest increase — 6 per cent higher than 2021 — mainly due to greater heating needs in a colder-than-usual winter.
Coal generation declined by 8 per cent, according to the Rhodium Group analysis of data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). For 2022, the Rhodium Group estimated, coal accounted for 20 per cent of the power mix (compared to 23 per cent in 2021), while natural gas was 39 per cent (compared to 37 per cent in 2021) and renewable sources were at 22 per cent (up from 20 per cent in 2021).
While GHG emissions grew by 1.3 per cent, US GDP grew by 1.9 per cent compared to 2021, when GDP growth rebounded by 5.9 per cent compared to the previous year and emissions grew at a higher 6.5 per cent, the Rhodium Group estimated. 2021 is considered the immediate post-pandemic year, and an increase in coal power and transport emissions were responsible for the higher emissions trend compared to GDP.
With GDP modestly outpacing emissions growth in 2022, it may lead some to suggest a gradual decoupling of emissions and economic growth for the US. But the fact is that it is still a highly carbon-intensive economy with the resources to decarbonise at a much faster pace.
And while these are territorial emissions which do not account for exports, the US oil and gas industry is thriving and has responded enthusiastically to fill the vacuum of Russian gas. It tied with Qatar as the world’s largest LNG exporter in 2022, exporting 81.2 million tonnes of the fuel that will be burned elsewhere and contribute to the stock of GHGs in the atmosphere.
At present, US emissions are 15.5 per cent below 2005 levels, according to the Rhodium Group. In its updated Nationally Determined Contribution or pledge to the Paris agreement, the US committed to reduce its emissions by 50-52 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
Under Democratic President Joe Biden, the US passed a new bill in August 2022 that will drive upwards of $300 billion towards climate and clean energy investments. The Rhodium Group had then suggested that the bill could theoretically reduce net GHG emissions by 31 per cent to 44 per cent below 2005 levels in 2030 — still insufficient to meet its Paris pledge.
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