The US’s GHG emissions fell during the course of Covid-19 so far, the challenge is to sustain some of this momentum
Covid-19 has battered the US—the country leads the world both in terms of cases and deaths. A small consolation is the bearing it has had on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Covid-related lockdowns would have helped the US inch closer to one of the targets that it had set for itself under the Paris climate accord—17% lower (than 2005 levels) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020. The New York Times reports that emissions were down 21.5% over 2005 levels in 2020.
While twice-impeached president Donald Trump had pulled the country out of the accord, the pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions of GHG-generating economic activity across the world. However, with signs of a pickup in economic activity in major economies such as China and India, and vaccine roll-outs underway in many nations, including the US and the UK, the pandemic effect will be just a blip. The challenge will be to sustain some of the momentum on emission-lowering.
The US, which is the world’s largest historical polluter, has certainly made progress in terms of its energy mix. For the first time, it has reported more energy generation using renewable sources than coal. However, there is still a long way for the country to ensure that emissions stay below 83% of 2005 levels.
President-elect Joe Biden has a very climate progressive agenda, but how much of it can really be translated into action remains to be seen. Getting the US to meet its target of net zero emissions by 2050 would be a big ask given the significant changes to not just the energy mix, but overall consumption it could require. Given the stress that the coronavirus has put the economy under, it would also be difficult to commit more resources to climate over other pressing issues. But, the US recommitting itself to Paris accord will certainly be a big positive for the global climate agenda.