Coal's Dying, But U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Still Rose in 2018

Photo: Getty

Donald Trump’s presidency has accomplished very little, but he did manage to oversee a 3.4 percent spike in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year, the second largest annual spike in 20 years. Nice going, Mr. President.

New research by economic research firm Rhodium Group estimates that the U.S. natural gas consumption continues to surge, which along with a growth in transit-sector emissions, caused the CO2 uptick. At the same time, the U.S. lost what’s potentially a record number of coal-fired power plants in 2018 despite Trump’s promises to revive the ailing industry.

The news is concerning because when it comes to avoiding climate catastrophe, every percent counts. And while U.S. power sector emissions are still generally on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the international climate pact coupled with this latest report are signs that America is backsliding at a time when it needs to be ramping its ambition up.

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The rest of the world isn’t doing much better, it seems. Global CO2 emissions rose in 2017 and 2018 after several years of holding flat.

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To be fair, the U.S. emissions increase isn’t all on the president’s new industry-friendly policies. Increased demand for diesel and jet fuel
due to growth in trucking and air travel demand didn’t help. (The transportation sector continues to be the largest CO2 emitter, which “highlights the challenges in decarbonizing the transportation sector beyond light-duty vehicles,” per the report.)

Then, there are buildings and industry, the sectors that saw the most emissions growth in 2018. Heating and cooking take an environmental toll, and early 2018’s freezing cold weather certainly exacerbated those costs. Ultimately, according to the report, buildings need to become more efficient to accommodate a growing population.

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And emissions from industry won’t get much better unless the government passes policies that’ll force its hand. That seems unlikely under Trump.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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