President Biden’s goal is to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels and reach net-zero emissions in 2050. Despite this goal, greenhouse gas emissions have grown since he took office. According to his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), emissions from large industrial sources increased by 4.1 percent in 2021 from 2020 levels. The 2021 increase measured by data collected from 8,100 industrial facilities, including power plants, refineries and chemical companies, represents the biggest increase in emissions since the program began in 2011.
The data show that in 2021:
- Power plants were the largest stationary source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with 1,326 facilities reporting approximately 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—an increase of 6.3 percent between 2020 and 2021, but roughly the same as the 1.66 billion tons reported in 2019, the year before the pandemic.
- Petroleum and natural gas systems were the second largest stationary source of emissions, reporting 312 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021– 0.7 percent lower than in 2020.
- Reported direct emissions from other large sources in the industrial and waste sectors were a combined 807 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021—an increase of 1.8 percent from 2020.
Note that petroleum and natural gas systems showed a decline despite producing a record amount of natural gas in 2021 and almost as much oil in 2021 as in 2020. The Biden administration has sought to scale back oil-and-gas leasing on federal lands and waters as part of its green-energy transition, despite natural gas production spurred by the hydraulic fracturing boom driving years of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities, responsible for 79 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. However, human activities account for about 4 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), carbon dioxide emissions increased 6.7 percent in 2021 over 2020 levels, and for the first 6 months of 2022, carbon dioxide emissions are still increasing. They are 2.6 percent higher than the same period in 2021. EIA expects total carbon dioxide emissions for 2022 to be 1.6 percent higher than in 2021.
Carbon dioxide emission in the electric sector increased 7.1 percent in 2021. Transportation sector carbon dioxide emissions increased more—10.9 precent— 10.9 percent in 2021. And, industrial sector carbon dioxide emissions increased by 3.6 percent. While carbon dioxide emissions in the electric sector have declined slightly during the first 6 months of 2022 compared to the first 6 months of 2021, they have increased in the other two sectors.
Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions
The 2020 pandemic triggered a global emissions drop of about 2 billion metric tons, the steepest absolute overall decline in history, but the easing of restrictions resulted in a 2 percent increase in December 2020 over 2019, according to the International Energy Agency. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, global carbon dioxide emissions increased 5.9 percent in 2021, led by China, whose emissions grew by 5.8 percent. (China carries out-sized weight as the country emits more carbon dioxide than the United States, European Union and India combined.)
Global primary energy demand declined almost 4 percent in 2020, resulting in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions falling by 5.8 percent –—the largest annual percentage decline since World War II. The decline in emissions of almost 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide is the equivalent of removing almost all of the European Union’s emissions from the global total. Global primary energy demand increased in 2021 by 5.8 percent, exceeding 2019 levels by 1.3 percent. China led all countries with primary energy demand increasing by 7.1 percent.
In 2020, global oil demand dropped by over 9 percent and global coal demand dropped by 4 percent. Oil’s decline was its largest ever and accounted for more than half of the drop in global emissions. Global emissions from oil use in 2020 dropped by over 1.1 billion metric tons, down from around 11.4 billion metric tons in 2019. The drop in road transport activity accounted for 50 percent of the decline in global oil demand, and the aviation sector represented a drop of around 35 percent. Oil demand picked up in 2021, growing by 6.1 percent, and coal demand grew by 6.3 percent as natural gas prices were soaring.
Low-carbon fuels and technologies, such as solar PV and wind, reached their highest share of the global energy mix in 2020, increasing by more than one percentage point to over 20 percent.
Greenhouse gas emissions are growing under President Biden’s watch, according to his EPA report, despite his goal of reducing those emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. Emission levels dropped in 2020 as a result of the COVID lockdowns but grew both in the United States and globally after the lockdowns were lifted. Emissions are likely to continue on an upward trajectory, particularly in Europe, as coal and wood are substituting for natural gas from Russia.