BloombergNEF examine: Rebound subsequent 12 months gained’t utterly offset this 12 months’s 9 % decline in greenhouse gasoline emissions
As a result, the United States was inadvertently pushed back on track to meet the commitments the Obama administration made in December 2015 to the Paris Climate Agreement despite the Trump administration pulling the country out of the pact. Before 2020, the United States had lagged significantly behind its targets under the deal.
Even so, net emissions are expected to be 6.4 percent lower, given the unusually extreme forest fires that struck the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains earlier this year, pumping carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air, and much of the decline in the U.S. Greenhouse have offset gas emissions.
An economic recovery in 2021 could further negate the decline in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the BloombergNEF study. Without the impact of the coronavirus, greenhouse gas emissions this year would have been only 1 percent lower than in 2019, according to the organization.
Scientists agree that rising greenhouse gases associated with human activity will drive global temperatures up and continue to cause irreversible damage to the planet.
“As with all major crises, there is an opportunity to turn this temporary drop in emissions into a more permanent one through investment and policy change, but it doesn’t happen on its own,” said Sarah Ladislaw, director of energy security and climate protection at the Center for Strategic and Environmental Protection international studies, it says in an email.
“Nothing about the economic hardship posed by COVID-19 points the way towards climate change other than pointing out how often we exclude our own systemic vulnerabilities,” she said. “Combating climate change requires a systematic and complete overhaul of our energy system.”
BloombergNEF analysts said the effects of the economic disruption would last through 2021 and that emissions in the coming year could still be 5 percent below 2019 emissions. That level, said Thomas Rowlands-Rees, head of North American research at BloombergNEF, could become a “new normal” if people change their driving habits and the energy sector continues to move to renewable energy.
But the study says the United States could draw little comfort from this.
“The amount of pain we had to go through for a relatively modest decline shows that there needs to be smarter politics and thinking about emissions,” said Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF’s head, America. “The focus does not have to be on how the demand can be reduced, but on how the supply can be made more environmentally friendly.”
This happens to some extent in the energy sector, the study says. The 11 percent drop in emissions in the sector was “not only due to a drop in consumption”. “It is a reflection of the US energy sector’s long-term reduction in emissions intensity.”
The biggest drop in emissions this year was in the transport sector, where emissions fell 14 percent due to a sharp drop in air and automobile travel.
Kevin Book, General Manager and Head of Energy Research at ClearView Energy Partners, downplayed the latest numbers. “You can get in shape or starve. Either way, you lose weight, ”said Book. “The whole point of energy is to go to places, do things, do things, enjoy things, and we haven’t done, done, done, or enjoyed nearly as much.”
“This is what it feels like to cut emissions as badly as possible,” he said. Reducing emissions from a global pandemic “is still not enough to change atmospheric carbon stocks.”
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged that he will return to the United States on his first day in office under the Paris Agreement. However, the BloombergNEF study warns that the United States “would still need stronger political commitments outside of the energy sector to meet the 2025 target”.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the economy was likely to have generated 5.9 million tonnes of emissions this year. It is forecast to have produced 5.9 billion tons.