Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 were the lowest in nearly 40 years, according to a 2021 year-end report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions totaled 4.6 billion metric tons, down 11% from 2019. That represented the nation’s lowest total since 1983. EIA cited lower energy demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as continuing changes in the electricity generation fuel mix.
The EIA said commercial sector emissions totaled 732 million metric tons, a 12% decrease from 2019. Industrial emissions dropped to 1.3 billion metric tons, an 8% difference.
Residential sector emissions fell 6% to 894 million metric tons in 2020, the report said. Although people stayed home more often in 2020, a warmer-than-average winter led to a lower demand for heat. That, in turn, resulted in the overall emissions decrease.
According to the EIA report, emissions fell 15% within the transportation sector in 2020. That was the largest decline among all industries, as fewer people took cars or planes and more worked from home during the pandemic.
Emissions from gasoline fell 13%, jet fuel emissions fell 38% and those from diesel fell 8%. Among the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, transportation accounted for 58% of all decreases in U.S. energy consumption.
EIA also cited continuing changes in the electricity generation fuel mix, as natural gas and renewables continued to displace coal. As natural gas prices fell during 2020, emissions from coal accounted for less than 900 million metric tons. This decrease of 19% surpassed the previous record one-year decline of 15% set in 2019.
EIA said lower natural gas prices were offset by a warmer winter, prompting less demand for heat. Natural gas emissions fell 2% to around 1.6 billion metric tons. The conditions that lowered energy-related CO2 emissions from 2019 to 2020 do not necessarily represent future trends, EIA said, pointing to pandemic-related impacts.
Since peaking in 2007, however, CO2 emissions have declined in nine of the past 13 years.