EPA Releases Draft Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 1990 to 2016

The inventory, a requirement from a 1992 U.N. treaty, shows emissions from most sectors are either decreasing or holding steady. The major exception: transportation.

2 minute read

February 21, 2018, 9:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met its requirement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed by President George H. W. Bush on October 13, 1992*, by releasing the draft on Feb. 7.

"The agency's inventory shows that the United States, the world's richest nation, released 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2015," reports Jean Chemnick, who covers international climate policy for Climatewire. 

It also shows that U.S. emissions in 2016 were 11.6 percent lower than in 2005, a downward trajectory supported by the power sector's shift from coal to natural gas. Warmer winters also contributed to that drop.

[See EPA webpage for introduction and access to "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks" or go directly to the 649-page draft inventory [pdf]. Two figures from the report are referenced below and identified by page number.]

Emissions from the transportation sector, on the other hand, have been increasing since 2013, though still below their 2008 peak, as Figure ES-14: U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Allocated to Economic Sectors [million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMT CO2)]  on pg. 49/649 [or pg. ES (Executive Summary) - 24. Also accessible by clicking on the respective link in the Table of Contents: List of Tables, Figures, and Boxes, beginning on page IX.

While the graph, which ends in 2016, shows emissions from the electric power industry and transportation essentially tied at total emissions, transportation took the unenviable #1 position that year when measuring just carbon emissions, according to a June post in Planetizen:

"For the first time since 1979, America’s cars, trucks, and airplanes emit more carbon dioxide than its power plants do," according to an article by Brad Plumer.

The increase in transportation emissions, resulting from an increase in petroleum consumption, correlates with an increase in vehicle miles traveled and a leveling in the fuel economy of new vehicles sold, stalled at roughly 25 mpg since 2014, according to monthly monitoring records by the Sustainable World Foundation, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Petroleum was far away the #1 contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in 2016, accounting for 44.1 percent, with natural gas and coal contributing 29.7 percent and 26.3 percent, respectively, according to Figure ES-6: 2016 CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion by Sector and Fuel Type [pg. 36/649, or Executive Summary ES-11.]

"The third-largest contributor of emissions in 2016 was forests, due to an unusually active wildfire season," adds Chemnick.

Correspondent's notes:
  • See EPA instructions for submission of comments by March 9.
  • *Three years before signing the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, President George H.W. Bush established the U.S. Global Change Research Program that requires Federal agencies and departments to prepare an annual National Climate Assessment.   
  • E&E News is subscription-only. I wasn't able to locate any other articles on the release of this important inventory.

Hat tips to Darrell Clark and Ned Ford.

Thursday, February 8, 2018 in Climatewire

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