Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2020 are on track to be at their lowest level in nearly 30 years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. emissions haven’t been this low since 1983, when the economy was not even 40% of its current size.
According to a new study by the research group BloombergNEF, U.S. emissions for the year will be 9% lower than they were in 2019, which will be the largest yearly drop on record. The report also anticipates that whatever happens in the pandemic, 2021 emissions will be well below pre-COVID levels as well.
The pandemic has inadvertently put the U.S. back on track to meet its original commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, despite the fact that we have pulled out the agreement. The incoming administration plans to return the U.S. to the pact.
Overall, U.S. emissions have been trending downward since 2008, primarily as a result of the lower dependence of the power sector on coal. The report estimates that in the absence of the pandemic, 2020 emissions would have been 1% lower than last year’s.
The dramatic drop in emissions is not really a great cause for celebration. Achieving significant emission reductions through massive economic hardship and societal disruption does not point the way towards making progress on climate change. The economic upturn that will undoubtedly occur when the pandemic loses its grip on the world will lead to rebounding levels of greenhouse gas emissions. But as is the case with all major crises, the current situation does present a chance to turn this temporary downturn in emissions into a more permanent one by making appropriate investments and policy changes.
Photo, posted January 13, 2013, courtesy of Onnola via Flickr.