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Expand chart
Data: EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

A federal report on U.S. carbon emissions helps to show the fast rise of wind and solar in recent years and why the potential retirement of nuclear plants makes it harder to deeply decarbonize the overall mix.

Driving the news: As the chart above shows, renewables are a rapidly growing share of the total amount of zero-carbon electricity the country produces, but nuclear still has by far the largest amount.

  • As plants potentially retire, those growing renewables must compensate for nuclear losses in addition to replacing fossil generation.
  • EIA's long-term outlook sees nuclear capacity falling by almost 20% in the next few decades, but the level of future natural gas prices could raise or reduce that amount a lot.

The big picture: The CO2 report unpacks forces that led to a 2.9% drop last year, including coal's continued slide, and a dip in transportation emissions following growth from 2012-2018.

  • Natural gas, which emits far less CO2 when burned than coal, is responsible for more of the ongoing declines in power sector CO2 emissions than renewables, it shows.

What's next: EIA's latest short-term outlook sees a 10% drop in U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions this year because the pandemic curtailed so much activity, but a nearly 5% rise in 2021.

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Jan 4, 2021 - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

10 energy and climate issues to watch in 2021

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

From presidential aspirations to oil to corporate positioning, here’s what I’m watching this year.

The big picture: After the year that wasn’t, well, everything we thought it would be, 2021 will be a messy mix of the pandemic (still) and reviving all that it sidelined on all things, including energy and climate change.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.