US greenhouse gas emissions rose again in 2022, putting the country further behind its targets under the Paris climate agreement despite the passage of sweeping clean energy legislation last year.
Emissions increased by 1.3 per cent last year, according to preliminary estimates by environmental consultancy Rhodium Group, led by sharp increases from the country’s buildings, industry and transport. The electric sector emitted slightly less, largely due to natural gas replacing coal in power stations and increased use of renewable energy.
The 74mn-tonne increase in the US’s carbon dioxide equivalent emissions last year was greater than the total emissions of some European countries, but far smaller than the 6.5 per cent leap (350mn tonnes) recorded in 2021 after authorities eased lockdowns imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
The emissions trend puts the US further out of sync with the administration of Joe Biden’s climate goals, Rhodium said in a report. Total US emissions of 5.6bn tonnes in 2022 maintain the country’s status as the second largest source of greenhouse gases after China.
“With the slight increase in emissions in 2022, the US continues to fall behind in its efforts to meet its target set under the Paris Agreement of reducing GHG emissions 50-52 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030,” the authors said. Last year US emissions were just 15.5 per cent below 2005 levels.
Huge clean energy subsidies included in the landmark Inflation Reduction Act passed by the US Congress last year could start to reduce the country’s emissions as early as this year, Rhodium said, “if the government can fast track implementation”.
“More aggressive policies are needed” to halve emissions by 2030, said Rhodium. The group’s report, based on preliminary economic and energy data, is the first major assessment of the US’s emissions performance last year.
The White House’s climate agenda and Biden’s ambition to “transition from oil” were complicated last year by a deepening global energy crisis, which prompted the administration to call for more fuel supplies and release millions of barrels of crude to cheapen domestic petrol prices.
US oil exports surged in 2022 and government forecasters say the country’s output of crude will reach a record high this year. Natural gas production and exports broke records last year.
Clean energy executives have also warned that achieving Biden’s climate targets will depend on reforms to US infrastructure permitting rules that have so far proven elusive.
Rhodium said the increase in emissions last year of 1.3 per cent is less than the estimated pace of economic growth of 1.9 per cent in 2022 — a sharp contrast with the economy’s “carbon-intensive rebound” in 2021, when a brief resurgence in coal combustion drove up CO₂-equivalent pollution from the US power sector by more than 100mn tonnes, or 7 per cent.
In 2022, emissions from buildings — primarily for their heating and cooling — rose by 6 per cent, Rhodium said. The 1 per cent fall in power sector emissions last year was “largely due to the substitution of coal with natural gas — a less carbon-intensive fuel — and a rise in renewable energy generation”.
Late last year the International Energy Agency said it expected total global CO₂ emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would rise by less than 1 per cent in 2022, as electric vehicle use and renewable energy capacity expanded.