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February 4, 2023
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U.S. greenhouse emissions show signs of slowing — but not quickly enough

U.S. greenhouse emissions show signs of slowing — but not quickly enough

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased by about 1.3% in 2022, rebounding for a second straight year after pandemic disruptions to high-emitting industries like shipping and travel. 

That’s according to a preliminary analysis from the Rhodium Group, a research company that tracks yearly emissions and U.S. progress toward its climate goals.

Emissions fell by about 10.6% in 2020, as the U.S. reckoned with the consequences of the pandemic. When the economy rebounded in 2021, so did U.S. greenhouse gases, which recorded a 6.5% uptick.

Before the pandemic, emissions were on a slightly downward track. The new analysis suggests that emissions are back on that trend line despite several volatile years.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are still not back up to 2019 levels. Potentially they won’t ever get back up to that level. Time will tell on that front,” said Ben King, a co-author of the report and an associate director with Rhodium Group’s Energy & Climate practice. “We’re continuing on the trajectory of decline. The challenge is we need big decreases.”

The Rhodium analysis suggests the U.S. is off track to reach fast-approaching climate goals in 2025 and 2030. Reductions from the landmark climate bills Congress passed in 2022 — the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act — have yet to kick in. Even then, the U.S. is projected to fall short of its goals.  

“If we stopped today and didn’t make policy adjustments and just relied on the Inflation Reduction Act, we would not make it,” said King, who leads federal policy research at Rhodium. “Additional policy action will absolutely be necessary to achieving those targets.” 

The U.S. is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. Rhodium’s analysis suggests the U.S. has taken steps that will reduce emissions by 32% to 42% by 2030, King said.

Some notable emissions trends developed last year.

For the first time, renewables outpaced coal in generating electricity. Wind, solar, hydropower and other renewables accounted for about 22% of total electric power, whereas coal dropped to 20%. 

But gains from cleaner sources of power were offset by increasing building emissions, which rose about 6% last year, largely due to home heating needs during a relatively cold winter. Emissions from air travel increased and returned to near-2019 levels.  

Rhodium’s 2022 analysis is preliminary. The independent research group gathers real-time data on energy markets and transportation fuels to estimate yearly emissions. 

The Environmental Protection Agency publishes official, detailed greenhouse gas inventories about 15 months after year’s end. Rhodium’s analysis is typically accurate within a few fractions of a percentage point.

Evan Bush

Evan Bush is a science reporter for NBC News. He can be reached at Evan.Bush@nbcuni.com.

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