EIA: United States produced lowest CO2 emissions since 1983

Published on July 28, 2021 by Chris Galford

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According to the latest Monthly Energy Review from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2020, the United States produced the least CO2 emissions from energy in nearly 40 years.

In 2020, the nation produced 4.6 billion metric tons (Bmt) of CO2, representing an 11 percent decrease from 2019 levels — the largest recorded annual plunge. As the country continues to open back up, the EIA expects this to turn around this year, with CO2 emissions expected to grow by 0.3 Bmt in 2021.

Some sources were more affected than others. U.S. petroleum consumption accounted for 2 Bmt of that 4.6 Bmt total CO2, and most of this (77 percent) was due to the transportation sector. Another 1.7 Bmt of CO2 emissions came from natural gas consumption, representing that fuel’s largest share on record. The remaining 0.9 Bmt came from coal consumption, marking its lowest total amount and share since annual EIA analyses began in 1973.

Much of the natural gas emissions came from the electric power sector and industrial sector. Nearly all of coal’s emissions came from the electric power sector. However, its consumption has been decreasing over the past decade as natural gas and renewable energy supplant the fossil fuel.

While still responsible for about 36 percent of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions last year, the transportation sector saw its emissions drop around 15 percent from 2019 levels, as petroleum usage dropped off during the travel bans and lockdown orders rife throughout the year. Still, petroleum accounted for 97 percent of that sector’s CO2 emissions.

The report also broke down other sectors’ shares of emissions. For example, in the industrial sector, direct consumption of natural gas accounted for most of its emissions, at a 41 percent share. Electric power generation therein also accounted for 28 percent, petroleum for 25 percent, and coal for 7 percent.

The U.S. residential sector emitted 0.9 Bmt of CO2 last year, with electric power generation accounting for 64 percent of that total. Direct consumption of natural gas provided another 29 percent. The U.S. commercial sector emitted the last total CO2 emissions of any sector last year, with 0.7 Bmt produced. Additionally, 69 percent of commercial sector CO2 emissions came from electric power generation, and 24 percent was from direct consumption of natural gas.