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U.S. energy-related emissions set to increase in 2022 and 2023: Kemp

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LONDON – Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are expected to increase this year and next as strong economic growth outpaces increases in energy efficiency, the deployment of renewables and the deployment of electric vehicles.

The projected increase in emissions shows the United States is far from reaching net zero by 2050, despite ambitious statements from key decision makers in the Biden administration.

Energy-related emissions are expected to increase by 87 million tonnes this year and an additional 25 million tonnes in 2023, according to the latest forecast from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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Based on detailed modeling of energy consumption by fuel, emissions are expected to be 4.97 billion tonnes in 2023, up from 4.86 billion tonnes in 2021, but still down from the peak of 6.02 billion in 2007.

Between 2007 and 2023, the EIA predicts that emissions will have declined at an average rate of only 65 million tonnes per year (“Short-Term Energy Outlook”, EIA, January 11).

But to achieve the net zero target, energy-related emissions would then have to fall by 184 million tonnes per year between 2023 and 2050, almost three times faster.

So far, most of the emission reductions have come from replacing coal-fired power generation with gas-fired generation plus renewables.

Coal-related emissions have declined at an average rate of 74 million tonnes per year since 2007, while gas emissions have increased by 24 million tonnes per year.

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Oil-related emissions have declined at an average rate of 15 million tonnes per year, but are still expected to reach 2.3 billion tonnes in 2023, making it the main source of CO2 emissions.

The switch from coal to gas in power generation was relatively straightforward, as they are very mature technologies with similar characteristics from a consumer perspective (https://tmsnrt.rs/3qtGJux).

However, with coal-related emissions reduced to less than 1 billion tonnes per year in 2022 and 2023, from nearly 2.2 billion in 2007, the scope for further reductions in the switch from coal to gas are limited.

Much deeper and more complex decarbonization policies will be needed to move closer to the net zero goal, which implies a much deeper transformation of energy and socio-economic systems.

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Nothing in the experience of the last 14 years suggests that deep decarbonization on the scale envisaged is likely to start in the short term.

Policymakers and climate activists are likely to stick to the target of net zero by 2050 for now in order to mobilize support and inject a sense of urgency into emission reductions .

But the relatively slow pace of cuts so far suggests that the target is already out of reach and will need to be reset later this decade.

Associated columns:

– IEA roadmap shows difficult course to net zero (Reuters, July 30)

– US net zero target involves transformation of the energy system (Reuters, April 21)

– Global CO2 emissions are far from net zero trajectory (Reuters, April 12)

– Climate change targets are out of reach (Reuters, April 16, 2019)

– John Kemp is a market analyst at Reuters. The opinions expressed are his own (edited by Jan Harvey)

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