In brief: Given the growing popularity of electric vehicles in the US, one might think the country would be on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions substantially. However, it seems that the opposite may have occurred in 2021: according to new estimates, US GHG emissions increased by 6 percent last year. It's a small but not insignificant uptick that suggests the world is starting to get back to normal, at least where fuel demand is concerned.
It's worth noting that this figure is relative to 2020's numbers, which were lower than usual due to a massive decrease in fuel demand. Fewer flights were taking off (indeed, many airlines were forced to ground their fleets), and many would-be drivers were staying at home; either quarantining or working from home via Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Compared to the pre-Covid days of 2019, 2021's emissions were still lower across the board. During 2019, the US saw well over 1800 metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere from transportation alone. In 2020, that figure dropped all the way down to sub-1600 levels, but in 2021, it bounced back to a little over 1700 metric tons -- still notably lower than 2019's figures, of course.
Other sectors saw less drastic changes. Industry and Building emissions increased only slightly over 2020's numbers and just about reached parity with 2019's last year.
The group behind these estimates, Rhodium Group, notes that 2021's emissions put the US "further off track" when it comes to meeting its Paris Agreement environmental targets. Of course, expecting the country to continue a downward emissions trajectory after a year like 2020 is not entirely reasonable, given how much of an outlier it is.
Nonetheless, as Rhodium points out, the Paris Agreement's targets require the US to reduce emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. As of 2020, the US reached the 22 percent mark, but in 2021, progress has tapered back to 17.4 percent.
It remains to be seen whether emissions will increase even more this year. It wouldn't be a surprise if lockdown fatigue finally gave way to a massive boom in travel and vacations, but only time will tell.
Masthead credit: American Public Power Association