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Xcel Energy's Sherburne County (Sherco) Generating Station near Becker, Minnesota.

According to a preliminary estimate, after three years of declining emissions, US CO2 emissions rose sharply in 2018. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Inertia

Preliminary estimates show U.S. carbon emissions rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years. The Rhodium Group, who published the study on Tuesday, explained that the increase comes after three consecutive years of declining emissions in the United States.

“Based on preliminary power generation, natural gas, and oil consumption data, we estimate emissions increased by 3.4 percent in 2018,” explains the research firm in its report.

The group goes on to note that in spite of countless coal-fired power plants being shuttered last year, increased natural gas consumption, a booming economy, and a cold winter all played a role in the emissions surge.

“While a record number of coal-fired power plants were retired last year, natural gas not only beat out renewables to replace most of this lost generation but also fed most of the growth in electricity demand,” the report reads. “The transportation sector held its title as the largest source of US emissions for the third year running, as robust growth in demand for diesel and jet fuel offset a modest decline in gasoline consumption. The buildings and industrial sectors also both posted big year-on-year emissions gains. Some of this was due to unusually cold weather at the start of the year.”


Perhaps most alarmingly, the increase in carbon emissions has put emissions targets under the Paris Agreement – which the United States has formally withdrawn from – further out of reach.

“The U.S. was already off track in meeting its Paris Agreement targets. The gap is even wider headed into 2019,” the report says.

This time last year, the Rhodium Group pointed to steady slowing of pace in emissions reductions over the past few years – from 2.7 percent decline in 2015 to a 1.7 percent decline in 2016 to a 0.8 percent decline in 2017. The latest estimates show that not only has progress slowed in 2018, but it’s gone the opposite direction.


“That slowdown in progress, combined with a lack of new climate policy action at the federal level, risked putting the U.S. emissions reduction goal under the Paris Agreement – a 26-28 percent cut below 2005 levels by 2025 – out of reach,” explains the Rhodium Group.

It’s worth noting that CO2 emissions are still down 11-percent from 2005 levels.


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