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The good and bad news about GHG emissions

Feb. 10, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic may have been a significant factor in the decrease of emissions in the last year, but instead of sliding backwards, there are steps to take now to keep this momentum moving forward.

Let’s start with the good news. A new report from Rhodium Group shows that U.S. Green House Gas (GHG) emissions were down 10.3% in 2020. This represents the largest single drop in annual emissions in the post-World War II era, according to Rhodium Group, an independent research provider. The group said this puts US GHG emissions levels below 1990 levels for the first time.

The not so good news is that most of this occurred because of the hit the economy took as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a slow down or cessation of many normal activities and all-time high unemployment levels.

So while we are happy to see GHG emissions down, we have to heed the caution from Rhodium’s report that we cannot consider this “a down payment toward the US meeting its 2025 Paris Agreement target of [GHG levels] 26% to 28% below 2005 levels.”

Transportation was one of the sectors hit hard by the pandemic but is also one of the leading sources of GHG emissions. In fact, the transportation sector, which accounts for 31% of net US emissions, according to Rhodium, experienced the biggest decline in GHG emissions, dropping 273 million metric tons below 2019 levels.

In the report, Rhodium is quick to point out that these reductions were due to economic conditions and not because of any structural changes in the transportation sector that would lead to continued reductions in carbon emissions.

So while the reduction in GHG emissions in 2020 is a good thing, we should not need a pandemic and its crippling impact on the economy for us to see GHG reductions at this level.

All of us in the transportation industry need to continue to make strides to bring GHG levels down. It has to start with engineers designing trucks that are more fuel efficient, truck makers building those trucks and fleets buying and then operating those trucks. But it also means expediting the development of alternative fueled vehicles like commercial battery electric vehicles and fuel cell battery electric vehicles — vehicle power sources that are cleaner than today’s diesel engines.

 It is going to take all of us working together on a variety of fronts to reduce GHG levels, but I am confident we can do it without the need for some catastrophic outside force. My money is on all the really bright, creative people in the trucking industry to get us where we need — and want to be when it comes to GHG emissions.

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He currently serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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