Pandemic put US back on track to meet Paris climate goals, report finds, but at huge human cost


In what researchers have dubbed a “remarkable” reversal of fortunes, pandemic-induced lockdowns across the US have brought the country back on track to meet targets in the Paris climate accord, but at a grim human cost.

According to an independent report released Thursday, US renewable energy capacity broke new deployment records in 2020, thanks to numerous tax incentives and initiatives, while coal consumption dropped concurrently.  

The proportion of electricity generated by renewables hit a record 20 percent of overall capacity, eclipsing coal, which dipped to 19 percent. Emissions from electricity use also fell 3.8 percent as office spaces lay fallow with people working from home.

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Meanwhile, vehicle emissions dropped, greenhouse gas emissions from the power grid decreased and the greatest amount of renewable energy capacity in a single year came online, despite what one expert called a “dire” first six months.

“Things were not looking great halfway through the year,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas at BloombergNEF, a research organization.

The report, produced by BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, also found that greenhouse gas emissions were down nine percent from 2019, and down 20 percent from 2005 levels. 

This brought the country back on track to meet its obligations laid out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, from which former president Donald Trump withdrew, a decision which was reversed by his successor Joe Biden on his first day in office. 

Despite the “pretty remarkable” gains, Zindler cautions that “Transportation will not necessarily get there without new policies and regulations.”

While the news is great for the environment, and the wider cause of bringing climate change under control, there was a significant human cost to the pandemic which cannot be forgotten. 

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According to the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the US has suffered 493,000 deaths, while recording over 27,898,000 cases of Covid-19. 

Beyond the tragic loss of life, the true economic impact of the pandemic will likely take years to calculate fully. The US’ unemployment rate peaked at 14.8 percent in April 2020, the worst since records began in 1948, before receding to 6.7 percent by December.

Countless small businesses face a likely greener and yet more uncertain future than ever before. 

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