Emissions Threaten to Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels

Emissions Threaten to Surpass Pre-Pandemic Levels

Greenhouse gas emissions are on their way back to pre-pandemic levels and then some, says a new report by the Rhodium Group. In 2020, COVID-19 lockdowns cleared the roads and the air -- causing emissions to abruptly drop by 10%. As at-home restrictions eased in 2021, emissions began growing slightly faster than the economy is growing.

Why This Matters

Experts warn the rapid rise in emissions spells bad news for our climate goals, particularly after atmospheric carbon levels hit a 3-million-year-high last October. Kate Larson, a co-author of the report, explained to Vox that had economic growth outpaced our emissions, it would mean "for every unit of energy we produce and consume, we are emitting fewer greenhouse gases emissions." This is not what we are seeing, says Larson, who told the Guardian, "We arent just reducing the carbon intensity of the economy, we are increasing it. We are doing exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing."

What's worse is that the rebound of personal vehicle use, which contributed to a 10% increase of emissions in 2021, does not wholly account for the increased pollution. And old climate villains like coal and industrial emissions, have made a resurgence, too. From 2020 to 2021, coal generation rose by 17%, while industrial emissions rose by 6.6%.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.

The Human Cost of Emissions

Urban residents around the world are already feeling the effects of pollution. A recent study from The Lancet Planetary Health found that nearly 9 out of 10 people who live in cities inhale unsafe levels of pollution annually -- sometimes with deadly consequences. And, in findings by the University of Chicago, "Unless global particulate air pollution is reduced to meet the World Health Organization's guideline, the average person is set to lose 2.2 years off their lives." In places with even higher levels of pollution like Bangladesh and India, less pollution could extend lives by up to 5 years.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Electric Vehicles - The Promise for Health and Equity, September 14, 2021.

Reuters: 'Terminate pollution' Schwarzenegger tells climate summit, July 1, 2021.