Little change in preponderance of fossil fuel usage as compared to renewables between 2020 and first few months of 2021; for the first two months of 2022, energy consumption released 953 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, up 40 million metric tons from the same period in 2021 (a 4.38% increase); emissions from wildfires so far in 2022 likely dwarf 10-year averages. The number of fires to-date is roughly 30% higher than the 10-year average, while the number of acres burned is an astounding 156% higher than the 10-year average.
In our baseline measurement, we looked at clean vs. fossil energy consumption between January and October 2021 (the most recently available data), comparing that data with the same period from 2020. The Energy Information Administration has now published statistics for all of 2021, in addition to January and February of 2022. These updated figures reflect only slight changes in clean vs. fossil energy consumption when comparing 2021 to 2020, and when comparing the first two months of 2022 to the first two months of both 2021 and 2020. For 2021, fossil fuels made up 79.02% of total energy consumption, with renewables at 12.49% and nuclear at 8.35%. These ratios differ only slightly from 2020, when fossil fuels were 78.56% of total energy consumption, renewables were 12.39%, and nuclear was 8.87%, pointing to slight increases in both renewable and fossil fuel use, with an accompanying decrease in nuclear use.
|Yearly energy consumption (% of total) [note: percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding]|
In analyzing energy consumption thus far in 2022, trends are relatively similar. Fossil fuels made up 80.25% of energy consumption by February, with renewables at 11.91% and nuclear at 7.7%. Fossil fuel use has not drastically changed from the same time periods in both 2020 and 2021, although we can see that nuclear has decreased in the energy mix since 2020, while modest gains have been made in renewables. The seemingly waning use of nuclear power is a trend to watch, as shifts away from nuclear risk increasing emissions if replaced with fossil fuels instead of other zero-emission energy sources.
|Energy consumption for January and February (% of total) [note: percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding]|
Carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption
Source: EIA monthly energy review, Topic 11.1, “Carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption by source” and Topic 11.7, “Carbon dioxide emissions from biomass energy consumption”
Because the Environmental Protection Agency only releases its emissions inventory annually, analyzing EIA’s estimates of carbon emissions from energy consumption can give a feel for likely emissions trends on a more frequent basis. At last evaluation, EIA had published emissions for January – October 2021, which were higher than the same time period in 2020, but lower than that period in 2019. EIA’s statistics now reflect emissions from all of 2021, as well as January and February of 2022. Total carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption (fossil fuels and biomass) in 2021 were 5.201 billion metric tons, up 301 million metric tons from 2020. This represents a 6.14% increase in energy emissions between the two years. While energy emissions should not be used to predict economy-wide trends (it is possible that gains in carbon sequestration in other sectors may offset these increases), these statistics do suggest a concerning step in the wrong direction.
|Yearly carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption (billion metric tons)|
For the first two months of 2022, energy consumption released 953 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, up 40 million metric tons from the same period in 2021 (a 4.38% increase).
|Carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption, from January and February (million metric tons)|
While this increase in emissions so far in 2022 may be cause for concern, more data will be needed to determine whether these emissions increases will remain the case for the rest of the year. For instance, by February of 2021, emissions seemed to be decreasing compared to the same period in 2020 (913 million metric tons vs. 924 million), but the full-year data shows emissions actually increased over the remainder of 2021, illustrating that we can’t rely too heavily on just two months’ data for interpret emissions trends for this year.
Wildfire year-to-date statistics
Source: National Interagency Fire Center National Fire News, and annual reports
Comparing year-to-date wildfire statistics in June 2022 against 10-year averages reveals a concerning trend of much higher-than-normal fire impact. While it is still too early to know how much carbon dioxide has been released from this year’s fires, these statistics highlight that emissions from wildfires so far in 2022 likely dwarf 10-year averages. Between January 1 and February 11, 2022 (our baseline), 3,120 wildfires had burned 54,170 acres. The number of fires at that time was roughly 25% higher than the 10-year average, but acres burned were only slightly above the 10-year average (7%). As of June 16, 2022, 30,449 wildfires had burned 2,990,255 acres across the country. The number of fires to-date is roughly 30% higher than the 10-year average, while the number of acres burned is an astounding 156% higher than the 10-year average.
|Number of wildfires since January 1, 2022|
|Year-to-date||10-year average||Change from average|
|Feb 11, 2022||3,120||2,529||+23.37%|
|June 16, 2022||30,449||23,535||+29.38%|
|Acres burned since January 1, 2022|
|Year-to-date||10-year average||Change from average|
|Feb 11, 2022||54,170||50,683||+6.88%|
|June 16, 2022||2,990,255||1,168,762||+155.85%|
The massive increase in severity of the fire season between February and June is at least partially due to change in season. But given that wildfire season only recently begun, 2022 seems on track to be a particularly harsh fire year that will likely release significant amounts of carbon.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard US Country Manager Christina Cilento