U.S. carbon emissions rise sharply in 2018

Xcel Energy's Sherburne County Generating Station near Becker Minnesota

Xcel Energy's Sherburne County Generating Station near Becker Minnesota

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USA emissions have declined somewhat since 2005 because of technological changes, such as the dwindling of coal-fired power generation in the face of surging natural gas and the growth of renewable energy.

In 2018, the U.S. saw the largest spike in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the start of the decade, rising 3.4 percent after three years of decline.

"I don't think you would have seen the same increase" without the Trump administration's rollbacks, Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium, told the Washington Post.

The United States is the world's second largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China. Output was up. And now an estimate by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, shows that Carbon dioxide emissions were way up. Carbon dioxide emissions plummeted. "So emissions tend to be greater in periods of greater economic activity".

At least part of the increase in 2018 emissions can be explained by a frigid start to the year in the Northeast, where oil and gas is used to heat homes.

In Poland, countries made a decision to acknowledge the report's "timely completion" but removed a prior reference to its most inconvenient finding - that a world responsible for more than 50 billion tons of total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2018 must make a monumental shift in the course of the coming decade.

Since then, the pace of emissions decline has slowed.

And the new report projects an increase to 5.32 billion metric tons of Carbon dioxide in 2018.

Trump administration officials have said that emissions can waiver from year to year depending on the economy, but that the country can both cut emissions and enjoy a strong economy at the same time.

The US Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to questions about the Rhodium report, saying it would only answer queries related to the partial federal government shutdown or about environmental emergencies.

As the report notes, there are "the forgotten sectors", too, that are also responsible for the increase - the buildings and industry sectors, which are estimated to make up for largest emissions growth in 2018. That is because the healthy economy and a severe cold snap in the Northeast drove up demand for heating and cooking fuel.

There are a number of factors behind the rise in USA emissions in 2018, some natural, mostly economic.

Emissions from electric power generation rose 1.9 percent in 2018, the analysis found, driven chiefly by more demand for electricity, which was largely satisfied by more burning of natural gas. Manufacturing growth fueled a 5.7 percent increase in the industrial emissions total.

"This highlights the challenges in decarbonizing the transportation sector beyond light-duty vehicles", the reports states of the trend.

The latest emissions data comes as the world's scientists have called the global climate problem more urgent than previously thought - making the United States' emissions trends and its path to withdraw from the Paris agreement more consequential.

Transportation, where emissions increased by 1 percent, remained the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the US previous year as demand for diesel and aviation fuel jumped.

"We expect it to overtake power as the second leading source of emissions in California by 2020 and to become the leading source of emissions in Texas by 2022", the report states.

Indeed, the Rhodium report suggests that greenhouse gas emissions dipped with the recession and will now keep increasing, without serious shifts in policy and behavior.

2018 is an anomaly because each year, since 2015, US carbon emissions had been decreasing, if modestly, as the nation worked to reach its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. In 2020, even as many other countries have said they intend to ramp up their climate ambitions, the Trump administration is expected to be poised to complete its planned withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

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