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The Climate 202

U.S. emissions rose slightly in 2022. They need to be falling rapidly.

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we’re reading about three common climate change myths that are easily debunked. But first:

U.S. emissions saw a modest increase in 2022, even as renewables surpassed coal, report says

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2022, rising 1.3 percent compared with the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, shows that the nation remains far from meeting President Biden’s ambitious climate targets — and that humanity remains far from averting the worst consequences of the climate crisis.

Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions 50 to 52 percent by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels. And humanity must significantly slash greenhouse gas pollution over the next decade, scientists say, to prevent disastrous extreme weather and other catastrophic climate effects around the globe.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, America’s emissions had been falling. But U.S. emissions have moved in the wrong direction for the past two years: They rose 6.2 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, the Rhodium researchers said, as the nation emerged from pandemic-related shutdowns and increased its reliance on coal.

“The key takeaway here is that emissions in the U.S. rebounded for a second year after the drop in 2020 owing to the pandemic and associated economic recession,” Ben King, an associate director at Rhodium and co-author of the analysis, told The Climate 202.

“Even with the continued growth in U.S. emissions, we’re still not back up to emissions at the pre-pandemic level in 2019,” King said. “And possibly we won’t get back to that level. So that’s the good news, or at least the somewhat less bad news.”

Here are two other top takeaways from the report — and what it means for our climate future:

Renewables overtook coal

The report offers one glimmer of hope: The nation would have seen an even larger uptick in emissions last year if pollution from the power sector had climbed. Instead, emissions from the power sector fell 1 percent compared to the previous year, “mostly due to the displacement of coal by natural gas and an increase in renewable energy,” the authors wrote.

In fact, renewable-energy generation last year surpassed coal generation in the United States for the first time in 60 years, the report highlights.

“We’re projecting renewables to contribute more to the grid than coal does,” King said. “From a decarbonization perspective, that’s quite an accomplishment, in and of itself. But there’s still a meaningful amount of coal left on the system. And for the U.S. to accelerate its decarbonization progress, more of that coal is going to need to go away.”

King noted that the Inflation Reduction Act will help provide an economic incentive for renewables, rather than natural gas, to replace retired coal generation. So will the Environmental Protection Agency’s forthcoming greenhouse gas standards for power plants, although the agency acknowledged last week that it will miss a self-imposed March deadline for proposing these rules.

A ticking clock

Still, time is running out for the United States and other high-emitting countries to start rapidly reducing their planet-warming pollution.

The Global Carbon Budget, an annual assessment of how much the world can afford to emit to stay within its warming targets, projected last fall that global emissions would hit a record high in 2022, with U.S. emissions increasing by an estimated 1.5 percent compared to the previous year.

To have a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, humanity can release no more than 380 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the coming decades — an amount equal to about nine years of current emissions, the report said.

“Obviously, if we have only 10 years left at the same level of emissions today, we need to reduce emissions massively as soon as possible. So any increase doesn’t go in the right direction,” Pierre Friedlingstein, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter who leads the Global Carbon Budget, told The Climate 202. 

“U.S. emissions had been declining pre-covid,” he added. “It wasn’t fast enough, but at least it was going in the right direction.”

Agency alert

Biden administration seeks to eliminate transportation emissions by 2050

The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a landmark plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by mid-century by investing in buses and trains, encouraging more walkable communities, and supporting the rapid adoption of electric vehicles, The Washington Post’s Ian Duncan reports

The strategy, developed by the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to assist communities that have been overburdened by the health effects of tailpipe pollution. It calls for not only transitioning away from gasoline-powered vehicles to EVs, but also changing the layout of communities to make Americans less dependent on cars overall.

Although the blueprint doesn’t set out new, enforceable targets, it serves as a long-term guide for federal agencies tasked with writing climate rules and spending environmental funds authorized by the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. Transportation is the nation’s largest source of planet-warming emissions, and experts say the next decade will be crucial for efforts to cut the sector’s carbon footprint.

On the Hill

House passes GOP rules package with controversial energy provisions

The House on Monday evening approved the rules under which it will operate for the 118th Congress, passing the rules package in a 220-213 vote largely along party lines, The Post’s John Wagner, Mariana Alfaro, Amy B Wang and Azi Paybarah report.

Many of the provisions in the rules package were concessions to detractors of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), including one that would allow a single lawmaker to force a vote on whether to remove him. However, the package also contains a couple of energy-related changes. 

One provision would streamline the transfer of public lands from the federal government to states or localities by removing the requirement that the costs of these transfers be offset. 

  • Critics argue that this provision would ignore the value of these lands to taxpayers and the public. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that the change would “make it easier to cheat American taxpayers and give away our public lands for nothing in return.”
  • A spokesperson for presumptive Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) defended the change, saying in an email to the Hill’s Zack Budryk: “Republicans are committed to ensuring that federal land management best reflects the needs of the local people closest to these lands, and this provision is not a giveaway to private industry like Mr. Grijalva is claiming.”

Another provision would fast-track consideration of the Strategic Production Response Act, which prohibits releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve without a plan to increase oil and gas leasing on federal lands. 

  • This provision would let House Republicans avoid a Natural Resources Committee hearing on the bill, where Democrats would probably argue that oil companies are already sitting on thousands of unused permits to drill on public lands. 
  • Former vice president Mike Pence’s group, Advancing American Freedom, has called for the passage of this bill, although it is unlikely to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

Pressure points

Ozone layer continues to heal, U.N. study says

Efforts to restore Earth’s depleted ozone layer are working, according to a report released Monday by a panel of United Nations-backed scientists, as global emissions of ozone-harming chemicals continue to decline, The Post’s Scott Dance reports. 

The ozone layer, which blocks ultraviolet sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface, has continued to slowly thicken. At its current rate, the ozone layer could recover to 1980s levels across most of the globe by the 2040s, according to the report. 

The scientists attributed much of this success to the Montreal Protocol, which outlawed the production and use of substances that destroy the ozone layer. The treaty has been approved by every country in the world. 

World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Petteri Taalas said the ozone layer’s recovery shows that society can tackle other pressing environmental problems, including climate change.

“Ozone action sets a precedent for climate action,” he said in a statement. “Our success in phasing out ozone-eating chemicals shows us what can and must be done — as a matter of urgency — to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gases and so limit temperature increase.”

In the atmosphere

Viral

It’s only Tuesday, but we can relate to these chimps:

Thanks for reading!

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