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Coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021
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Coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021

Coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021


According to the The American Petroleum Institute, US emissions rose 6.2% last year. This was due to a renewed reliance upon coal power and rising natural gas prices. Rhodium Group.

After falling sharply in 2020 due to the economic impact of Covid-19, transport emissions also saw a significant uptick in 2021, buoyed by the return of freight trucks to the nation’s highways.

The research organization also released preliminary data showing that renewables generated a fifth US electricity last year. This puts hydropower, wind, solar, biopower, and biomass on par with nuclear power, for the first-time in decades. 

This follows the largest US emissions drop since World War II in the first year of Covid-19. Despite the rebound, 2021’s emissions remained at 5% below pre-pandemic levels.

Nevertheless, the Rhodium Group says that last year’s increase puts the nation “even further off track” from achieving its rapidly approaching emissions targets, as the Biden administration’s efforts to push climate legislation through Congress Continue to falter

Renewables up

The 2021 addition of solar and wind capacity has led to an overall increase in US renewable energy generation. This is a reflection of the 2021 Presidential election. Relative resilienceCovid-19 impacts.

The 4% increase in generation was approximately half the rate of growth seen in 2020. However, despite this slower pace and a slight dip in hydropower generation, the Rhodium Group notes that renewables reached “20% of US electricity generation for the first time”.

This chart shows that renewables (green), outnumbered nuclear (yellow), last year. There was a slight dip for plants like asparagus. Indian PointNew York shut down.

US power generation per source, in terawatthours (TWh). Dotted lines indicate estimates for 2021. Source: Rhodium Group.

These power sources have never been evenly matched since the last time they were. Around the early 1980s when hydro projects generated more electricity than the nation’s fledgeling nuclear industry.

The US supports the Rhodium group results Energy Information Administration (EIA) Data. In fact, Forecast for December earlyAccording to the EIA, renewables will outperform nuclear generation. They will produce 824 terawatthours (TWh), in 2021, as opposed to nuclear’s 779TWh.

Some have argued that US nuclear plants are closing without new ones to replace them. Generally speakingFossil fuel plants have been replaced by other clean power sources.  

The Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia approved the first reactors for decades in 2012. However, they were not approved by the US in 2012. StayThese are the only ones currently under construction in the country.

The Rhodium Group reports that the share of clean electricity remained stable in 2021, with a 1% dip for nuclear and a 1% rise in renewable generation.

Coal’s resurgence

Despite the continued growth in low-carbon electricity sources in the United States, the power sector, which accounts to 28% of US greenhouse gas emissions, saw an increase of 6.6% in its emissions in 2021.

A 3% rise in electricity demand was partly responsible for this increase, as lockdown restrictions were eased and the US economy expanded again. The Rhodium Group believes that the main driver was a rise in coal combustion after years and years of decline.

The US EIA was launched in October AnnouncementIt expected that coal-fired electricity generation would increase annually in 2021, which was the first time in seven decades.

This is confirmed by the Rhodium Group’s analysis, which shows coal generation rising sharply by 17% last year. 

Natural gas and coal are the main sources of power in the US. However, coal generation is still a major source of power. The drop was slight2020: Below nuclear 

The two companies compete for electricity in many parts of the US. soaring gas costsThe combination of stable coal prices and last year’s record profits has meant that the latter is often preferred. Both are fossil fuels, but coal produces electricity. There are many moreWhen gas is burned, carbon dioxide (CO2) is more powerful than gas.

Below is a chart that shows relative shares of generation taken over the past three year. The blue color represents coal’s largest increase and its return to second place as the largest power source.

US Energy use 2019-2021 by fuel type
US power generation by source in 2019, 2020, 2021 Source: Rhodium Group.

However, the EIA stated that coal generation will cease in 2022. Most likely to dropThis will drop by approximately 5% when coal power plants close down and natural gas prices decrease slightly.

The US has the second largest coal fleet in the world. However, many plants are not part of this fleet. Already beenDecommissioned and a third remaining fleet It is to be expectedClose by 2030

Returning transport

While the power sector is significant, its emissions are exceeded by transport, which at 31% is not only the largest source of US emissions, but also saw the steepest increase in emissions last year – a 10% rise.

This is largely due to the fact that this sector saw the greatest decline in emissions over the previous year. Many were forced to live in their homes and restricted by other restrictions, such as Covid-19 lockdowns. 

Below is a chart that shows the remarkable trajectory of transport over the past 2 years. Transport emissions are still below pre-pandemic levels, just like other sectors.

US emissions by sector 2005-2021
US greenhouse gas emissions by key emitting industries in million tonnes of equivalent CO2 (MtCO2e). Dotted lines indicate estimates for 2021. Source: Rhodium Group.

Road freight was the only mode that exceeded 2019 levels. Consequently, diesel – the fuel used to power large freight trucks – saw demand reach levels 0.4% higher than they were before the pandemic.

Climate targets

According to the Rhodium Group’s analysis, 2021 emissions were 17.4% below 2005 levels, up from 22.2% below 2005 levels in 2020.

Under the US’s updated Contribution determined by the nation(NDC), towards the Paris Agreement, which was announced last year by Joe Biden. The nation is aiming at reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 50-52% of 2005 levels by 2030.

The Biden administration submitted an updated long term strategy to the upcoming election. UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), which obligates the country to achieve net-zero emission by 2050.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which assesses national climate commitments, has concluded that while the new US 2030 target is an “ambitious” step forward, it is not in line with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5C. CAT has ProposedA target of reducing emissions by 57-63% from 2005 levels would be compatible with that target.

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Research suggests that Biden’s flagship “Build back better” act, which involves billions in spending on renewables and electric cars, would result in significant cuts to US emissions – but would still not meet the current 2030 target. Even these measures are currently inadmissible due to opposition from Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat senator and the Republican party. in limbo.

The Rhodium Group says its new analysis shows these targets have been pushed “even further off track”, as the chart below shows – with a trajectory to achieve US climate targets in light blue and actual emissions in dark blue.

US Net and Projected Emissions 2000-2030
US greenhouse gas emissions (darkblue), relative to trajectory as per international commitments (lightblue). Source: Rhodium Group.

However, the group’s preliminary analysis points to its own recent workThis document lays out a path to the 2030 target. “Joint accelerated action by Congress, the federal executive branch, and leading states can put the 2030 target within reach, but all must act quickly in order to put the US on track,” it concludes.

This story has sharelines

  • Coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021

  • Data reveals that the US has equaled nuclear power for the first time in decades.


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