The US Saw Exponential Clean Energy Growth in 2018…So Why Have Emissions Risen?
By admin March 5, 2019

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Since pre-industrial times, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have caused a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in global temperatures as a direct result of human activity, and experts now warn that this must be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid causing irreparable damage to the planet’s intricate eco and biosystems. The Rhodium Group reported this month that transportation remains one of the biggest contributors to US emissions, which rose by 3.4% in 2018 in spite of clean energy sector growth. This is the second-largest margin in 20 years, reversing the previous three-year decline. However, along with this rise, the US is also seeing its coal consumption hitting the lowest levels in 39 years, with 16 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity being retired last year.

So, what is the reason for this spike in emissions?

It essentially comes down to rising energy demand. 2019 has seen extremely cold weather in its first few months, creating a higher energy demand than expected as more heating was needed in homes, offices, and other buildings. The US economy also grew throughout 2018, meaning that industries required more energy to reach greater targets. In fact, the industrial sector is becoming an increasingly large proportion of US GHG emissions and is on track to become the second leading source of emissions in California by next year, and the leading source in Texas by 2022.

The problem of rising energy demand calls for significant policy change, as the declining cost of renewables and technology improvements have failed to have a meaningful impact on the level of GHG emissions in the US. Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium and author on the Group’s report notes that “what we’ve seen is backsliding in federal policy, and we’re starting to feel the effects of that now,” although there is still time to get back on track and reverse the damage. Houser suggests policy that channels investment into clean energy technologies, as clean energy could present a massive market opportunity. Forbes Energy breaks this down further, suggesting three fields of policy that need to be addressed: performance standards, economic signals and research & development support. Theoretically, if these three types of policy are applied to the biggest emissions sources, we should begin to see a decline in emissions, without hurting economic growth.

Some suggest that Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) may be the answer. According to UN Environmental Program estimates, SWFs invested less than 0.2% of their total assets into green energy projects and climate-oriented debt. The figures suggest that this stems from a reluctance to give up returns from oil and gas industries. However, rethinking the SWF structure could be key in this new global energy landscape. The World Economic Forum notes that SWFs are ideal for environmental and social investment strategies as they “can better afford to wait to see the social as well as financial benefits” than their private counterparts. SWFs can also take advantage of the long-term nature of their investors, potentially allowing them the ability to diversify their resources if needed.

In conclusion, economic growth in the US has been one of the biggest drivers of emissions in recent years, causing a knock-on effect in many carbon-intensive areas such as transportation, power generation and industrial activity. In order to mitigate negative and irreversible damage from resulting climate change, current clean energy initiatives ultimately need greater support from the federal policy level, as clean energy growth is unable to keep up with the growth in energy needs more generally. This is especially pertinent in today’s conditions, as the cold weather this Winter has increased energy demand further. This not only highlights the fact that energy efficiency should be at the forefront of new policy but reinforces the fact that it will be difficult to make serious headway on the climate issue without that reinforcement.


For More Information:

After years of decline, US carbon emissions are rising again

If U.S. Emissions Rose In 2018 Despite Clean Energy Growth, How Can We Meet Climate Goals?

Isn’t It Time To Devote Sovereign Wealth Funds To Tackle Climate Change?

Rhodium Group Report: Preliminary US Emissions Estimates for 2018

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Once Again On The Rise

Thanks for sharing !

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