America’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4% in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a preliminary estimate published on Tuesday.
Strikingly, the sharp uptick in emissions occurred even as a near-record number of coal plants around the US retired last year, illustrating how difficult it could be for the country to make further progress on climate change in the years to come, particularly as the Trump administration pushes to roll back federal regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The estimate, by research firm Rhodium Group, pointed to a stark reversal. Fossil fuel emissions in the US have fallen significantly since 2005 and declined each of the previous three years, in part because of a boom in cheap natural gas and renewable energy, which have been rapidly displacing dirtier coal-fired power.
Yet even a steep drop in coal use last year wasn’t enough to offset rising emissions in other parts of the economy.
As the US economy grew at a strong pace last year, emissions from factories, planes and trucks soared.
And there are few policies in place to clean those sectors up.
“The big takeaway for me is that we haven’t successfully decoupled US emissions growth from economic growth,” said Trevor Houser, a climate and energy analyst at the Rhodium Group. As US manufacturing boomed, for instance, emissions from the nation’s industrial sectors — including steel, cement, chemicals and refineries — increased by 5.7%.
Policymakers working on climate change at the federal and state level have so far largely shied away from regulating heavy industry, which directly contributes about one-sixth of the country’s carbon emissions.