• Corinne E. Atton

January 31, 2021: U.S. GHG Emissions Drop 10% But CO2 Remains 50% Above Pre-Industrial Levels

Welcome to a “Tea Break” article—with a climate focus:


U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Dropped 10% During the Pandemic

With mixed feelings, this New York Times headline caught our eye. A significant drop in U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a fantastic thing, but over the last 12 months it has come at an extraordinary cost. I doubt there is a family in America, or frankly anywhere around the world, who will not be touched by Covid-19. There is light at the end of the tunnel. And there is another glimmer of hope in a recent report by the Rhodium Group.


Following the extraordinary events of last year, their data indicates a 10.3% drop in U.S. GHG emissions—“the single largest drop in annual emissions in the post-World War II era, outpacing the Great Recession of 2009 when emissions dipped 6.3%.” U.S. GHG emissions are now “below 1990 levels for the first time.” Significantly reduced travel alone has led to “a 14.7% decline in transportation sector emissions between 2019 and 2020.” The “second largest decline” was in the electric power sector, which dropped “167 million metric tons (or 10.3%) below 2019 levels.”


Another significant observation in 2020 is that coal dropped from first to third place as a U.S. fuel source, behind natural gas, and nuclear, “with renewables close behind.”


Fingers firmly crossed that momentum has now been built to continue these trajectories, if the U.S. is to reach the target set under Paris Climate Agreement. Continued, sustained, decisive action is needed if we have a chance to put our planet back on track.


(Images acknowledgement: ClimateDeck, EIA at Rhodium Group)

Carbon Dioxide Levels in 2021 Will Be 50% Higher than Pre-Industrial Levels

In related news, the U.K. Met Office has issued the startling forecast that in 2021, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will reach levels that are 50% higher than before the industrial revolution. A representative for the Met Office reports that “[a]lthough the Covid-19 pandemic meant that 7% less CO2 was emitted worldwide in 2020 than in previous years, that still added to the ongoing build-up in the atmosphere.” Even more troubling, the Met Office reports that “[t]he human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating. It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now just over 30 years later we are approaching a 50% increase.”


This latest data underscores the crucial importance of global efforts to bring emissions to net zero as soon as possible.


(Image acknowledgment: U.K. Met Office)

This blog post is brought to you by Draper & Draper LLC, a law firm devoted to international arbitration, resolution of natural resources and renewable energy disputes, climate change innovation and patents.