U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Drop On Coal Decline

According to an analysis published by private data analytics firm the Rhodium Group, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States dropped an estimated 2.1 percent in 2019 after rising sharply in 2018. The reduction represents an estimated 124 million metric tons of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere. That is roughly the same amount as the annual greenhouse gas emissions produced by the entire economy of the Philippines.

The emissions decline is almost solely due to the drop in the amount of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants. U.S. coal consumption dropped a record 18 percent last year, representing the steepest year-over-year decline in recorded history. The drop leaves coal generation in the U.S. at its lowest level since 1975. U.S. coal generation has been cut in half since the Great Recession and more than 200 coal plants have closed over the past decade.

Natural gas became America’s leading electricity source in 2016. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, natural gas produces lower emissions than coal would have because it is less carbon-intensive. If natural gas remains cheap, the Rhodium Group predicts that half of the coal power plants in the U.S. could be gone by 2030.

Power generation was the only sector of the U.S. economy that significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. A host of other sectors, including transportation, buildings, industry, and agriculture make up 73 percent of national emissions. They all either stayed roughly flat or rose slightly in 2019, the report found.

Even with the 2.1 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. still fell far short of its climate targets outlined by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Under the agreement, the U.S. pledged to reduce emissions to about 27 percent lower than 2005 levels by the year 2025. With five years to go, the U.S. would need to reduce emissions by about 3 percent annually on average, significantly faster than the 0.9 percent average annual reduction achieved since 2005.

President Donald Trump officially announced in November the beginning of the United States’ formal withdrawal from the Paris accord, but the target is still held out as a baseline to gauge American climate action. The withdrawal is effective on November 4, 2020.