Major Covid-Related Emissions Drop Still ‘No Cause for Cheer’


Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. fell 18% below last year’s level in the three months ending June 15, reflecting an economy sharply hobbled by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report by research firm Rhodium Group.

The drop is likely to continue through the year and even the decade, with climate pollution anywhere from 2% to 12% lower than estimated by 2030, depending on the disease’s spread and economic damage. The impact of the pandemic on greenhouse gas emissions will be “far more” than the shift to solar power or more climate-safe agricultural practices, the Rhodium analysts conclude.

Still, Rhodium and other climate analysts have emphasized that the temporary emissions drop doesn’t outweigh the devastation wrought by the coronavirus.

“The emission reductions associated with our scenarios, while sizable, are certainly no cause for cheer,” the group wrote. “The economic damage and human suffering of COVID-19 has already been substantial and will likely continue for some time.” 

The Rhodium study casts the problem in economic terms, finding that each ton of avoided CO₂ cost the economy between $3,200 to $5,400. That’s roughly 100 times higher than some proposals for a U.S. carbon tax.

Major Covid-Related Emissions Drop Still ‘No Cause for Cheer’

Transportation led the emissions decline over the three-month period analyzed. As the quarantine left vehicles parked in driveways and lots, related greenhouse gases were reduced by 28% compared to 2019. A protracted slowdown could lead to 2030 transportation emissions 14% lower than previously expected.  

Solar-and-wind-powered electricity for the first time surpassed coal-fired plants, which saw 30% lower production at the quarantine peak in April. Industrial companies, including metals, chemicals, cement and paper, are projected to become the highest emitters in the next six years as they tap the U.S.’s enormous stores of gas and oil. 

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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