American greenhouse gas emissions rose 1.3 percent last year but did not fully rebound to their levels before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a preliminary analysis published Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.
Despite the increase from 2021, the report found that the emission rebound did not outpace economic growth in 2022 as it did the previous year. In 2021, emissions increased by 6.5 percent, compared to a 5.9 percent rise in gross domestic product. The report attributes that dynamic not being repeated in 2022 to a decrease in electric power sector emissions, largely driven by the replacement of coal with natural gas and renewable energy.
Emissions from the power sector, the source of over a quarter of overall U.S. emissions, fell 1 percent last year, according to the report. Meanwhile, coal generation fell 8 percent from the previous year, restarting a longtime decline after 2021 saw a slight uptick. The past year saw the retirement of coal-fired generators, as well as disruptions in delivery of coal to power plants by rail. The report projects these factors, and the decline in coal prices they caused, cut the share of overall electricity generation coal represents, from 23 percent in 2021 to 20 percent in 2022.
Meanwhile, renewable energy generation was up 12 percent from 2021, while renewables represented a greater share of total power generation than coal for the first time in decades.
Despite this, however, the report suggests the U.S. is not on track to meet the Biden administration’s goal of cutting national emissions by half compared to 2005 by 2030, the estimated level needed to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The two highest-emitting sectors in the U.S., transportation and industry, saw emissions increases of 1.3 percent and 1.5 percent respectively last year. The resumption of air travel after a dropoff in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a particular driver of transportation emissions.
The analysis called the Inflation Reduction Act President Biden signed last year “a significant turning point” in staying on track for emission goals, but said “more aggressive” policies will be needed to meet the 50 percent goal by decade’s end. It recommends pursuing aggressive regulatory policies within federal agencies as well as taking action at the state level and within the private sector.
“These actions … can put the target within reach—but all parties must act quickly,” the report states.