Greenhouse gas emissions by the United States

Greenhouse gas emissions by the United States
Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide versus Time
Carbon Dioxide Emissions by state
Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the U.S. and China in millions of metric tons (1990-2006)

Until 2006, the United States was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions.[1] China has been the top emitter since 2006.[2][3][4][5][6] However both the emissions as a result of manufacturing exports and the emissions avoided by product imports are not considered. For instance, around 33% of China's emissions in 2005 were due to the production of exports rather than the result of their own consumption. [7]

While the former US Federal government (Bush Administration) opted against Kyoto type policies, the Obama Administration, various state, local, and regional governments have attempted some Kyoto Protocol goals on a local basis. For example, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI),[8] is a state-level emissions capping and trading program, which was founded on January 18, 2007 by eight Northeastern US states.

The White House announced on 2009-11-25 that President Obama is offering a U.S. target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.[9]

The U.S. State Department is offering a nation-level perspective by releasing the Fourth US Climate Action Report (USCAR) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that includes measures to address climate change. The report shows that the country is on track to achieve President Bush's goal of reducing greenhouse gas intensity (the amount of GHG emissions per unit of gross domestic product) by 18 percent from 2002 to 2012. Over that same period, actual GHG emissions are projected to increase by 11 percent. The report estimates that in 2006, U.S. GHG emissions decreased 1.5 percent from 2005 to 7,075.6 teragrams of carbon dioxide equivalent. This represents an increase of 15.1 percent from the 1990 levels of 6146.7 teragrams (or 0.9 percent annual increase), and an increase of 1.4 percent from the 2000 levels of 6978.4 teragrams. By 2012, GHG emissions are projected to increase to more than 7,709 teragrams of carbon dioxide equivalent, which will be 26 percent above 1990 levels.

Those opposing Kyoto such as the Heritage Foundation note that, "Kyoto protocols are proving to be a failure. Most of the major parties that have pledged to reduce their emissions - name Western Europe, plus Canada and Japan - are not on track to meet their reduction goals."[10] Many environmental groups criticize the choice to energy intensity, rather than reduce total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. "Without legally binding targets for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the Sydney declaration is irrelevant and meaningless in addressing climate change," Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Abigail Jabines has said.[11]



U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from energy use rose by 1.6% in 2007, according to preliminary estimates by the United States Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). Electricity generation increased by 2.5%, and carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector increased even more, at 3%, indicating that U.S. utilities shifted towards energy sources that emitted more carbon. That shift was partially caused by a 40 billion kilowatt-hour decrease in hydropower production causing a greater reliance on fossil fuels (natural gas and coal). Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants fueled with natural gas increased by 10.5%, while coal-burning power plants increased their emissions by 1.8%.[12] In 2007 the NOAA stated that the "U.S. and global annual temperatures are now approximately 1.0°F warmer than at the start of the 20th century, and the rate of warming has accelerated over the past 30 years, increasing globally since the mid-1970's at a rate approximately three times faster than the century-scale trend. The past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S., a streak which is unprecedented in the historical record." [13]

Reduction target

The White House announced on 25 November 2009 that President Barack Obama is offering a U.S. target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. The proposed target agrees with the limit set by climate legislation that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but the U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill that cuts GHG emissions to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. The White House noted that the final U.S. emissions target will ultimately fall in line with the climate legislation, once that legislation passes both houses of Congress and is approved by the President. In light of the President's goal for an 83% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, the pending legislation also includes a reduction in GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2025 and to 42% below 2005 levels by 2030.[9]

The day after the White House announced the U.S. GHG targets, China announced that it will reduce the intensity of its carbon dioxide emissions by 40%-45% by 2020. Carbon dioxide emissions intensity is defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP).

Strategy and measures to address climate change

The U.S. strategy integrates actions to address climate change (including actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions) into a broader agenda that promotes energy security, pollution reduction, and sustainable economic development.

Near-term measures

Energy: residential and commercial sectors

  • Energy Star
  • Commercial Building Integration [14] and Residential Building Integration (Build America).[15]
  • Weatherization Assistance Program [16]
  • State Energy Program [17]

Energy: industrial sector

Energy: supply


69% of petroleum in the USA is for transportation. 81% of that is highway transportation.[27]

Programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector:

  • CAFE:
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program requires automobile manufacturers to meet average fuel economy standards for the light-duty vehicle fleet sold in the United States . The passenger car standard has been set by statute at 11.7 kilometers per liter (kpl or km/l) (27.5 miles per gallon (mpg)), but can be amended through rulemaking. In 2003, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raised the standard for minivans, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and other light trucks from 8.8 kpl (20.7 mpg) to 8.9 kpl (21.0 mpg) for 2005, 9.2 kpl (21.6 mpg) for 2006, and 9.4 kpl (22.2 mpg) for 2007. The action more than doubles the increase in the standard that occurred between 1986 and 2001, a period of more than 15 years. It is predicted that this activity might save approximately 412 trillion Btus (3.6 billion US gallons (14,000,000 m3)) of gasoline over the life of model year 2005–07 light-truck fleets and is projected to result in emission reductions of 42 Tg of CO 2 Eq. in 2012 for all light trucks after model year 2005.
In March 2006, NHTSA issued a new rule for light trucks covering model years 2008–11. The new rule raises required light-truck fuel economy to 24 mpg by model year 2011 and will save nearly 1,259 trillion Btus (11 billion US gallons (42,000,000 m3)) of gasoline (73 Tg of CO 2 Eq.) over the life of the affected vehicles. The new rule includes an innovative reform that varies fuel economy standards according to the size of the vehicle. The regulation has also been extended for the first time to large passenger vans and SUVs.
  • SmartWay
  • Reneweable Fuel Standard:
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ is responsible for promulgating regulations to ensure that gasoline sold in the United States contains a specific volume of renewable fuel. This national Renewable Fuel Standard will increase the volume of renewable fuel that is blended into gasoline, starting with calendar year 2006. The standard is intended to double the amount of renewable fuel usage by 2012.
  • FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership and Vehicle Technologies Program:
The program [28] works jointly with DOE's hydrogen, fuel cell, and infrastructure R&D efforts and the efforts to develop improved technology for hybrid electric vehicle, which include the hybrid electric components (such as batteries and electric motors).
The U.S. government uses six “criteria pollutants” as indicators of air quality: ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides, particulate matter, and lead and does not include carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
  • Clean Cities [29]
  • Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program.[30]
  • Aircraft Fuel Efficiency:
Aviation yields GHG emissions that have the potential to influence global climate. In the United States , aviation makes up about 3 percent of the national GHG inventory and about 12 percent of transportation emissions. Currently, measuring and tracking fuel efficiency from aircraft operations provide the data for assessing the improvements in aircraft and engine technology, operational procedures, and the airspace transportation system that reduce aviation's contribution to CO 2 emissions. DOT has a goal to improve aviation fuel efficiency per revenue plane-mile by 1 percent per year through 2009. In the near term, new technologies to improve air traffic management will help reduce fuel burn and, thus, emissions. In the long term, new engines and aircraft will feature more efficient components and aircraft aerodynamics, enhanced engine cycles, and reduced weight, thereby improving fuel efficiency.
  • Biomass and Biorefinery Systems Program [31]

Industry: non-CO2 GHGs

  • Methane Programs [32]
  • High-GWP Programs :
The United States is one of the first nations to develop and implement a national strategy to control emissions of high-GWP gases. The strategy is a combination of industry partnerships and regulatory mechanisms to minimize atmospheric releases of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—which are potent GHGs that contribute to global warming—while ensuring a safe, rapid, and cost-effective transition away from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, and other ozone-depleting substances across multiple industry sectors.
    • Environmental Stewardship —The objective of this initiative is to limit emissions of HFCs, PFCs, and SF6 in three industrial applications: semiconductor production,49 electric power distribution,50 and magnesium production.
    • HFC-23 —To reduce HFC-23 emissions from the manufacture of the ozone-depleting substance HCFC-22.
    • Voluntary Aluminum Industry Partnership —To reduce CF4 and C2F6 .
    • Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP)- To phase down the use of ozone-depleting substances (ODSs), such as CFCs and HCFCs. SNAP has initiated programs with different industry sectors to monitor and minimize emissions of global-warming gases, such as HFCs and PFCs used as substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals.
    • Mobile Air Conditioning Climate Protection Partnership —



Waste management

  • Landfill Methane Outreach Program
  • Stringent Landfill Rule:
Promulgated under the Clean Air Act in March 1996, the New Source Performance Standards and Emissions Guidelines (“Landfill Rule”) require large landfills to capture and combust their landfill gas emissions. The implementation of the rule began at the state level in 1998. Recent data on the rule's impact indicate that increasing its stringency has significantly increased the number of landfills that must collect and combust their landfill gas. EPA estimates that methane reductions in 2002 were 9 Tg CO2 Eq.,[clarification needed] and reductions for 2012 may remain about the same.
  • WasteWise to encourage recycling and source reduction.
  • Federal Woody Biomass Working Group


Authorized under Section 1605(b) of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, this voluntary program provides a means for utilities, industries, and other entities to establish a public record of their emissions and the results of voluntary measures to reduce, avoid, or sequester GHG emissions

Nonfederal policies and measures

State initiatives
Regional initiatives
NGA has announced plans to expand statewide regulations on GHG emissions and clean energy initiatives. In a news conference on September 12, Governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas unveiled a task force they will lead along with six other governors to promote renewable energy, conservation, and a reduction in GHG emissions through statewide policies. The US Department of Energy will provide $610,000 in support for this initiative.
As chairman of NGA, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) said that on energy issues, "We have a federal government that doesn't seem to want to move as fast or as bold as many would like.” With states creating their own emissions standards, Pawlenty said, there will be a push for the federal government to come up with a nationwide energy policy to address global warming. If enough states act to reduce GHG emissions, "it becomes a de facto national policy," he said.[34]
Climate action plans
  • California: Issued April 2006.
  • Connecticut: Issued February 2005
  • Massachusetts: Issued May 2004
  • New Mexico : Issued December 2006
  • Oregon : Issued December 2004[35]
Lead by example programs
  • New Hampshire's Building Energy Conservation Initiative
  • New Jersey's Green Power Purchasing Program
  • Atlanta's Virginia Highland - 1st Carbon Neutral Zone in the United States[36][37]
Local initiatives
Private-sector and NGO initiatives
  • Climate Savers
  • Ceres' Investor Network On Climate Risk
  • Green Power Market Development Group
  • Chicago Climate Exchange
  • Business Environmental Leadership Council
  • PowerSwitch!
  • Climate RESOLVE

Long-term measures

  • Carbon Sequestration Regional Partnerships
  • Nuclear:
    • Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative
    • Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative
    • Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative
    • Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
  • Clean Automotive Technology
  • Hydrogen Technology
  • and High-Temperature Superconductivity

International measures

USA is one of the few countries that has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. has long stated that Kyoto is a dead end because the countries that will emit the vast majority of greenhouse gas emission in the future (such as China, the number 1 emitter of greenhouse gases in the world) do not have commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Asia Pacific Partnership


The British climate envoy in the meeting of the world's top 16 polluters, John Ashton, said the US seemed isolated on the issue of fighting climate change [38]:

The argument that we can do this through voluntary approaches is now pretty much discredited internationally

—John Ashton, Meeting of the world's top 16 polluters

Requirements to report greenhouse gas emissions

As a result of the USEPA's Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases rule, thousands of companies in the US, beginning January 1, 2010, are required to monitor their greenhouse gas emissions and begin reporting those emissions in 2011.[39] A detailed inventory of fossil fuel CO2 emissions is provided by the Project Vulcan, produced by researchers at Purdue University.

See also


  1. ^ Raupach, M.R., G. Marland, P. Ciais, C. Le Quéré, J.G. Canadell, G. Klepper & C.B. Field. (2007). "Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions". Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 104 (24): 10288–93. Bibcode 2007PNAS..10410288R. doi:10.1073/pnas.0700609104. PMC 1876160. PMID 17519334. 
  2. ^ "China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Retrieved 2007-06-22. 
  3. ^ "China Overtakes U.S. as No. 1 Emitter of Carbon Dioxide". Sci-Tech Today. 2006-06-21. 
  4. ^ "Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise in China". NPR. 2008-03-14. 
  5. ^ "China CO2 Emissions Growing Faster Than Anticipated". National Geographic. 2008-03-18. 
  6. ^ "Forecasting the Path of China’s CO2 Emissions Using Province Level Information". Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UCB. CUDARE Working Paper 97. 2008-03-14. 
  7. ^ The Contribution of Chinese Exports to Climate Change
  8. ^ "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative". Retrieved 2006-11-07. 
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ Lieberman, Ben and Brett D. Shaefer (September 24, 2007).Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change: A Badly Needed Alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. Heritage Foundation web memo 1636. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
  11. ^ ,
  12. ^ EIA - Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the U.S. 2006-Carbon Dioxide Emissions
  13. ^ The Global Warming Debate - The Facts
  14. ^ DOE: High Performance Buildings
  15. ^ Building Technologies Program: Building America
  16. ^
  17. ^ EERE: State Energy Program Home Page
  18. ^ Industrial Technologies Program: BestPractices
  19. ^ Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program: Wind Energy Research
  20. ^
  21. ^ EERE: Geothermal Technologies Program Home Page
  22. ^ EERE: Biomass Program Home Page
  23. ^ OE: Distributed Energy Program Home Page
  24. ^ Environmental Protection Agency
  25. ^ Environmental Protection Agency
  26. ^ DOE - Fossil Energy: DOE's Carbon Sequestration Research Program
  27. ^ PickupTruck.Com: Is An Electric Heavy Duty Pickup In Your Future? Ian Wright Says Yes
  28. ^ EERE: Vehicle Technologies Program Home Page
  29. ^ EERE: Clean Cities Home Page
  30. ^ Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program - Environment - FHWA
  31. ^ EERE: Biomass Program Home Page
  32. ^ US EPA - Methane
  33. ^ National Governors Association
  34. ^ ,
  35. ^ The Governor's Advisory Group on Global Warming (2004-12-17). "Climate Change in Oregon - Oregon Strategy". Oregon Department of Energy. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  36. ^ Jay, Kate (November 14, 2008). First Carbon Neutral Zone Created in the United States. Reuters. 
  37. ^ Auchmutey, Jim (January 26, 2009). "Trying on carbon-neutral trend". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
  38. ^ "Bush climate plans spark debate". BBC News. 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  39. ^

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