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Emissions in the U.S. - statistics & facts

Over the past two centuries, the United States has cemented itself as the world’s largest economy. In its rise to becoming the global superpower it is today, it has released huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion, making it the biggest carbon polluter in history. As of 2020, the U.S. had emitted almost 420 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) since the industrial revolution – far more than any other country.
Despite its staggering historical emissions, the U.S. is now the second-largest emitter annually - behind China. In 2020, the U.S. accounted for a 13 percent share of global CO2 emissions, having produced 4.6 GtCO2. This was a decline of 11 percent - or 568 MtCO2 - compared with the previous year. This unprecedented reduction was caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, which had a considerable impact on polluting sectors.

Main sources of U.S. emissions

The transportation sector is now the most polluting in the U.S., accounting for a 29 percent share of GHG emissions as of 2019. The electric power sector was the main source of U.S. CO2 emissions up until 2016, but a shift away from coal power and a transition towards cleaner energy sources has seen U.S. power sector emissions fall almost 25 percent since 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. transportation emissions have been rising annually since 2012 (excluding the COVID-19-related decline in 2020).

The U.S. states with the highest transportation emissions are the two most populated - Texas and California - which produced 222 MtCO2 and 211 MtCO2 in 2018, respectively. However, Texas produces far more CO2 emissions than any other state in the U.S., especially from its power and industrial sectors. This is perhaps unsurprising given that Texas accounts for almost a quarter of U.S. primary energy production, and is home to some of the country’s most polluting power plants. It is also a major producer of carbon-intensive goods such as motor fuels and petrochemicals.

The U.S. targets a zero-carbon future

In late 2021, governments around the world arrived at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) to discuss climate action plans. One of the outcomes was that all major countries agreed to reach carbon neutrality between 2050 and 2070. Although U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been in decline over the past decade, it is still a major contributor to the climate crisis. Therefore, the U.S. government pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. With the support of the EU and other partners, the U.S. also launched the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative aimed at reducing global methane emissions.

The U.S.’s pathway to net-zero will be achieved by deploying new technologies such as renewable energy sources and sustainable fuels and improving energy efficiency across economic sectors.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 30 most important statistics relating to "Emissions in the U.S.".

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