U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by 6.2% from 2020 levels last year as the use of coal-fired electricity jumped 17% and drivers returned to the roads after the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released on Monday.
The projected emissions increase shows the U.S. is now further off the target set by the Biden administration under the Paris climate agreement to slash emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were 17.4% below 2005 levels in 2021, up from 22.2% below 2005 levels in 2020, according to the Rhodium Group, a research organization.
The group analyzed preliminary U.S. emissions data for 2021, a year that was supposed to be marked by recovery after the pandemic-related upheaval of the economy. It found that emissions growth outpaced the rate of economic recovery, using estimates that GDP grew by 5.7% year-on-year.
Driving the emissions growth were the transportation and electric power sectors, whose greenhouse gas emissions rose 10% and 6.6%, respectively in 2021, both rebounding around 2/3 of the drop from 2019 levels.
In the power sector, high natural gas prices led to a 17% rise in coal generation – the first increase since 2014 – which drove up emissions.
The U.S. transportation sector, which accounts for nearly a third of net US emissions, saw the largest spike in emissions in 2021, a year after experiencing a 15% decline in 2020 from 2019 levels – the largest decline in greenhouse gas emissions led by a drastic drop in road travel due to the coronavirus.