Story at a glance

  • A BloombergNEF survey revealed the U.S. hit greenhouse gas emissions not seen since 1983.
  • Major cuts were seen in the transportation sector.

A new report projects that greenhouse gases emitted by the U.S. will fall by 9.2 percent this year, which marks the lowest emissions level in three decades, as reported by The Washington Post.

According to results from a new BloombergNEF survey, the drop in greenhouse gas emissions is primarily due to a stalled economy that was forced into shutdowns as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the globe.

Cumulatively, 5.9 billion tons of emissions are estimated to have been released into the atmosphere in 2020, roughly the same level recorded in 1983.


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While this news appears to be promising, experts note that without major infrastructure changes, such as new laws and regulations, the decrease in emissions likely won’t stick.

“Like all major crises, there is a chance to turn this temporary downturn in emissions to a more permanent one by making investments and changing policy, but it won’t just happen on its own,” Sarah Ladislaw, the director of the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told reporters. 

Looking ahead to 2021, when a successful COVID-19 vaccine is expected to debut and prompt the economy into a recovery which, while vital, could also depreciate the impact of 2020’s relatively low emissions. 

“Nothing about the economic hardship coming from COVID-19 points the way forward on climate change except that it points out how we often discount our own systemic vulnerability,” Ladislaw added. “Tackling climate change requires a systematic and complete overhaul of our energy system.”

Additionally, the progress in reducing emissions may be offset by the anomalous wildfires that ravaged the western U.S. this year. 

Based on the analysis conducted by Bloomberg researchers, the drop in emissions could be sustained if people adopt new driving habits and renewable energy and power continues to grow.

With commuting dropping as lockdown and work-from-home orders were executed, the biggest drop in emissions was seen in the transportation sector, fueled mainly by less cars on the road and significantly less air travel. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from transportation sources, making it the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Still, researchers emphasize the need for policy change in a more sustainable direction.

“The amount of pain we’ve had to go through for a relatively modest drop shows that there needs to be more smart policy and smart thinking about emissions,” Ethan Zindler, BloombergNEF’s head of Americas, said. “The emphasis has to be not on how to reduce demand, but how to make supply more green.”


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Published on Nov 19, 2020