More heating and fuel pushes US carbon emissions up in 2018

Olive Hawkins
January 11, 2019

Carbon dioxide (CO²) emissions spiked last year in the United States after three years of decline, new research has found.

Trevor Houser, a partner at the research firm, told the Guardian this signals the end of Obama-era climate policies. As a result, power sector emissions rose by 1.9 percent.

The figures also show that the President's efforts to boost demand for coal have not succeeded yet, with electricity generated from this fossil fuel continuing to decline. The increase followed three years of declining emissions.

Another big source of emissions that often doesn't get noticed, according to the report, is in the building sector of the economy. According to the report, the first nine months of 2018 yielded a meager 0.1 percent decline in demand for gasoline. "The transportation sector held its title as the largest source of United States emissions for the third year running, as robust growth in demand for diesel and jet fuel offset a modest decline in gasoline consumption". In addition, the myriad of small refinery exemptions the U.S. EPA-the administrating agency of the RFS-has handed out to oil companies, releasing them from their obligation to blend biodiesel under the RFS, has further reduced the role of low-carbon biodiesel in mitigating GHG emissions. But the transportation sector of the economy contributed the most to the nation's record emissions. While a number of state governments are poised to enact clean energy and climate policies in 2019, the Trump administration plans to continue rolling back federal greenhouse gas regulations on multiple sectors of the economy.

"At a high level, we need federal action to put a price and limits on carbon pollution", Holstein said.

A new analysis shows United States greenhouse gas levels are increasing as the Trump administration unravels efforts to slow climate change. The Rhodium report noted that some of the 2018 rise could be attributed to the health of the USA economy, which contributed to more airline travel, on-road shipping, and industrial emissions from factories and other manufacturing businesses. A cold winter was also a factor, particularly because it led to higher consumption of natural gas and fuel oil in homes for heat.

The increase was also driven by greater demand for diesel and aviation fuel as Americans flew more and shipped more goods by trucks, and by a bigger need for heating oil during a cold winter past year.

TREVOR HOUSER: It appears based on preliminary data that emissions in the USA grew by the highest rate since 2010 when we were recovering from the Great Recession.

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BRUMFIEL: What's needed, he says, is a strong economy and the right incentives to invest in green technologies. The agency contends that Donald Trump's agenda is driving energy innovation that could help cut emissions.

Biodiesel-blended heating oil known as Bioheat is one effective drop-in solution for reducing noxious and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which is an important sector considering Rhodium Group's research demonstrates that the largest growth in US carbon emissions past year took place in buildings and industry. "We expect it to overtake power as the second leading source of emissions in California by 2020 and to become the leading source of emissions in Texas by 2022".

Still, carbon dioxide emissions are down 11 percent since 2005.

Currently, the world is 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels, thanks to human activity. It said US energy-related emissions of Carbon dioxide dropped 14% from 2005 to 2017.

Scott said, "Whether in transportation or in heating buildings, biodiesel is a cleaner option that can make a substantial difference today". But previous year, the strong economic growth meant a rise.

"That slowdown in progress, combined with a lack of new climate policy action at the federal level, risked putting the USA emissions reduction goal under the Paris Agreement - a 26-28 percent cut below 2005 levels by 2025 - out of reach", explains the Rhodium Group. "Such political developments, including the rollback of domestic climate policies in the USA, tend to have a considerable lead time before you can actually see their reflection in physical emission trends".

"It is certainly feasible, but will likely require a fairly significant change in policy in the very near future and/or extremely favourable market and technological conditions".

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