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Coronavirus linked to largest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since World War II: research

Coronavirus linked to largest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since World War II: research
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U.S. greenhouse gas emissions experienced a more than 10 percent drop amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the largest decrease in annual emissions since World War II, according to a report released Tuesday by the research firm Rhodium Group.

The report noted that a decrease in activities by industries hit hard by the pandemic, including transportation and electric power, contributed to the 10.3 percent decline, outpacing the 6.3 percent decline following the Great Recession of 2009. 

The U.S. transportation sector saw the largest drop in emissions in 2020, down 14.7 percent from 2019 levels as the pandemic forced a drop in travel. 

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Power plant emissions followed with the second-largest decline at 10.3 percent below 2019 levels, spurred by the drop in coal-fired power plants and a general decline in electricity amid the pandemic.

According to the research group, the significant decline means the U.S. will be able to exceed its 2020 Copenhagen Accord target of a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels.

However, the firm noted that with the increase in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the lifting of stay-at-home orders and other pandemic restrictions in the coming months, emissions will likely rise again, leading to questions on whether the U.S. will be able to reach its 2025 Paris agreement target of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 emission levels. 

“We expect economic activity to pick up again in 2021, but without meaningful structural changes in the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy, emissions will likely rise again as well,” Rhodium explained in the report. 

Though President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE withdrew the U.S. from the Paris accord, President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE has signaled plans to rejoin the agreement upon taking office, with the goal of the U.S. reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Despite the record decline in greenhouse gas emissions, 2020 also saw extreme climate-fueled wildfires in the U.S., destroying more than 4 million acres in California alone. 

A November report from BloombergNEF noted that a 2.8 percent increase in forest fires in 2020 “partially offset the drop in emissions from human activity.”