The economic fallout from the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 – especially in large emitting sectors like transportation, energy and industry – resulted in emissions falling more sharply than the recession of 2009, when emissions fell 6.3%.
This drop means that the United States would exceed its commitment under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. Emissions will actually fall by 21.5% compared to 2005.
But the report’s authors warned that the cut should not be seen as a guarantee that the United States can easily meet its more ambitious commitment under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions by 28% below levels of. 2005 by 2025.
President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate agreement, but President-elect Joe Biden has said he intends to join as soon as he is inaugurated on January 20. He plans to put the country on the path to net zero emissions by 2050, but will first have to announce an emissions reduction target by 2030.
“With the coronavirus vaccines now in distribution, we expect economic activity to pick up in 2021, but without significant structural changes in the carbon intensity of the US economy, emissions will likely rise again,” indicates the research group report.
The transportation sector was the driving force behind the decline, which saw emissions drop sharply by 14.7% from 2019 levels as travel declined, especially at the start of the pandemic in March, according to the report.
Emissions from power plants saw the second largest drop, falling 10.3% below 2019 levels, due to coal-fired plant withdrawals and a general drop in demand for electricity due to damage economic effects caused by the pandemic, according to the report.