Climate Action

US fossil fuel consumption is at its lowest in 30 years. Here’s why

fossil-fuesl-consumption-usa

Consumption of fossil fuels in the U.S. is falling. Image: Unsplash/ETA+

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Climate Action?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how SDG 13: Climate Action is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

SDG 13: Climate Action

Listen to the article

  • US fossil fuel consumption fell by 9% in 2020, says the Energy Information Administration.
  • Coal accounted for 13% of US fossil fuel consumption in 2020, its lowest annual share since 1949.
  • Petroleum products were the most-used fossil fuels in the US in 2020. Natural gas, used mostly to generate electricity and heat, took its largest annual share on record.
  • While fossil fuel use falls, renewables are continuing to rise to new records.

The use of fossil fuels in the United States hit the lowest level in almost 30 years in 2020. You have to go as far back as 1991 to find a similar level of fossil fuel consumption. The COVID-19 pandemic and warmer weather have driven the decline, according to the United States Energy Information Administration’s Monthly Energy Review.

In 2020, total consumption of fossil fuels in the US, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal, fell by 9%.

graph-shows-fossil-fuel-consumption-in-the-United-States
Fossil fuel consumption in the United States is at its lowest level in 30 years. Image: US Energy Information Administration

Historic fall in fossil fuel consumption

It was the biggest annual fall in US fossil fuel consumption in both absolute and percentage terms since 1949, when the administration first published the annual data series.

Have you read?

“Economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, including a 15% decrease in energy consumption in the US transportation sector, drove much of the decline,” the EIA said.

Relatively warmer weather in the US in 2020 also reduced demand for heating fuels.

graph-fossil-fuel-consumption-was-biggest-since-1949
The fall in fossil fuel consumption was biggest since 1949, when its records began, the EIA said. Image: Monthly Energy Review, June 2021, EIA.

Fossil fuel drivers

Petroleum products including vehicle fuel and diesel, accounted for 44% of US fossil fuel consumption in 2020. At 68%, transport was the largest consumer of petroleum.

Natural gas accounted for 43% of US fossil fuel usage in 2020, mostly to generate electricity and heat. This is the largest annual share on record, the EIA said.

Coal accounted for 13% of US fossil fuel consumption in 2020, the lowest annual share since 1949.

petroleum-products-were-the-most-used-fossil-fuels-in-the-US-in-2020
Petroleum products were the most-used fossil fuels in the US in 2020. Image: Monthly Energy Review, June 2021, EIA
Discover

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Renewables revolution

The amount of fossil fuel consumption used at a global level is also declining and renewables are seeing a surge in demand.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported in June that renewables were now significantly undercutting fossil fuels as the world’s cheapest source of power.

Another record was set in 2020 for the amount of new renewable energy projects completed. According to IRENA, the world added more than 260 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity last year, exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50 per cent.

More needs to be done though. By 2030, the International Energy Agency says global clean energy investment needs to triple to around $4 trillion a year if the world is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate ActionEnergy TransitionNature and Biodiversity
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Translating Critical Raw Material Trade into Development Benefits

Jack Hurd

May 23, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum