Jan 12, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The pandemic led to an unprecedented drop in emissions

Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an estimated — and unprecedented — 10.3% drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year, per a preliminary analysis from the Rhodium Group.

Why it matters: It's by far the single largest annual drop in the post-World War II era and puts U.S. emissions 21.5% below 2005 levels.

The analysis also shows how COVID-19 affected not only aggregate national emissions but also specific sectors.

Yes, but: The decline is rooted in the "enormous toll of significant economic damage and human suffering" and isn't a substitute for emissions policy at all, Rhodium says.

  • Last year "should not in any way be considered a down payment" on the U.S. goal under the Paris Agreement of cutting emissions 26%-28% percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • The incoming Biden administration will rejoin the agreement and submit a longer-term target for deeper cuts.

What's next: "With coronavirus vaccines now in distribution, we expect economic activity to pick up again in 2021, but without meaningful structural changes in the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy, emissions will likely rise again as well," it states.

Go deeper: COVID-19 Took a Bite From U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2020 (New York Times)

Go deeper