Natural gas is booming in the United States. Production has increased by 20 percent in the last five years, fueled largely by technological advances in shale gas extraction. Other countries--including China--are now studying our experience with this abundant new resource.
But the growing role of natural gas in the U.S. energy mix hasn’t come without controversy. Natural gas development poses a variety of environmental risks. In addition to habitat disruption and impacts on local water and air quality, one of the most significant concerns is the climate impact resulting from the “fugitive methane emissions” that escape into the atmosphere from various points along the natural gas supply chain.
So what are fugitive methane emissions, and how big of a problem are they? How do emissions from natural gas compare to those from coal? And are there ways to mitigate them? The answers to these questions will help us better understand how natural gas development will affect climate change.
For some, this call to action may come as a surprise, as multiple recent reports have hailed falling U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for example, found that carbon dioxide emissions in the United States dropped 13 percent over the past five years.
However, the story is not as simple as it seems. By taking a closer look, it becomes clear that the United States needs to do more to shift to a safer pathway.
Here are three popular misconceptions about U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and the underlying truth behind them:
But the 1,000-plus pages of the Assessment also carry important findings—many of which have not been highlighted in media reports thus far. WRI’s experts reviewed the assessment in its entirety. Below, we boil down some of the highlights from this comprehensive body of work, including its findings on how increases in greenhouse gas emissions have impacted temperature, sea level rise, precipitation, ice cover, ecosystems, and human health in the United States and globally.
Build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has already caused America’s average temperature to rise by 1.5 ˚F since 1895, according to the assessment. With continued increases in emissions, U.S. temperatures are projected to increase 5-10˚F by the end of the century. Rising temperatures have implications for human health, drought, storm intensity, and species and ecosystem health, among others. A few other notable statistics include:
The U.S. Environment Protection Agency finalized the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule today to protect people from exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers. By encouraging industry to use cleaner-burning fuels and to make efficiency improvements, Boiler MACT will modernize U.S. industry, reduce toxins, and cut carbon pollution.
The Boiler MACT rules, which are required by the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, will only target the most significant sources of toxic air pollution. Most boiler-based emissions come from a small handful of very large industrial and commercial facilities that operate coal, oil, and biomass-fired boilers. As such, according to EPA:
Fewer than 1 percent of all U.S. boilers will be required to reduce their emissions to levels that are consistent with demonstrated maximum achievable control technologies, or MACT standards. Operators of these types of boilers will have three years to reduce toxic air pollution and meet new emissions limits.
A larger subset of U.S. industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers (roughly 13 percent) would not be required to meet the specific MACT standards, but would need to reduce their toxic air emissions through other means (as described below).
About 86 percent of all U.S. boilers are relatively small, limited-use, or gas-fired boilers, and are not covered by the new rules.
In 2002, EMBARQ founded CTS-México—a Mexican nongovernmental organization staffed with transport engineers, urban planners, and policy experts—and partnered with the Mexico City government to develop a bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor on a high-profile avenue running through the heart of the Mexi
New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Transportation are on a mission to make the Big Apple the "greatest, greenest big city in the world" by ramping up bicycle infrastructure across the city, introducing bus rapid transit to the Bronx, and pedestrianizing Times Square, among other
China makes and uses almost half of the cement in the world. Between now and
2030, some estimates are that China will erect half of all buildings expected to be
constructed in the world. Cement is an energy intensive and polluting business
currently responsible for 15% of China’s emissions of carbon dioxide.
Working with China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)
and the China Building Materials Academy, WRI is providing greenhouse
gas (GHG) accounting tools and training to help cement companies
measure GHG emissions and better understand their energy needs.
It’s a critical step in helping a booming industry meet government
mandated energy reduction goals.
The GHG Protocol (developed by WRI and the World Business
Council on Sustainable Development) is the basis for the
program. It has been adopted by China’s NDRC as a standard
in its efforts to lead national programs to address global
warming. Our aim is to work with the NDRC to expand use
of the GHG Protocol into other energy- and GHG-intensive
industries (oil and gas, petrochemical, chemical, power
generation, and iron and steel).
An increasing number of U.S. states and Canadian provinces are enacting
regulations to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. WRI has been an
active contributor to this movement, providing critical technical and
policy advice, and facilitating negotiations.
Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington,
and four Canadian provinces recently agreed to collectively reduce GHG
emissions by 15% of 2005 levels by 2020 and establish a cap-and-trade
system. Under the plan, companies obtain permits for the emissions
attributable to their operations. Cleaner, more efficient companies
needing fewer permits may sell what they don’t need to those with larger
emissions. This initiative is the largest effort of its kind in North America.
Member states account for nearly 27% of total U.S. GHG emissions.
Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, along with
Manitoba, have also agreed to design an emissions reduction market.
Both efforts build off of the experiences of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a similar program among ten northeastern states targeting
electric utilities that WRI helped create in 2005. Carbon trading began in
The passage of the American Climate and Energy Security bill by the House
of Representatives in June 2009 represents the biggest step yet taken toward an
ambitious national climate policy. The bill sets forth a long-term roadmap to
shift the U.S. economy to a low carbon path.
John Larsen is a senior associate on WRI’s forty-person climate team. For three
years, he has analyzed the greenhouse gas emission reduction trajectories in
numerous proposals in the run-up to the bill.
“There’s a real appetite on Capitol Hill for WRI’s objective research and
analysis,” says Larsen. “Lawmakers turn to our climate experts to better
understand the bill’s impact on complex issues like U.S. competitiveness, trade,
and jobs.” Larsen’s own work helped inform the bill’s targets and timetables.
WRI, he believes, helped make the bill as strong as politically possible.
No bill would have been possible without buy-in from the business community.
As a co-founder of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), WRI helped
bring leading businesses and environmental organizations together to urge
significant and mandatory regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. USCAP
recommendations helped shape the bill’s provisions and were widely cited in
Congress as a basis for the legislation.
In January 2010, two WRI-recommended features were incorporated into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) regulations for implementing the new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). These regulatory features will help minimize the negative impacts of biofuels by ensuring comprehensive accounting of their lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The 2007 expansion of the RFS program required the EPA to set lifecycle GHG threshold standards to ensure that biofuels being used to meet the RFS emit fewer greenhouse gases than the petroleum fuel they replace. The framework the EPA would develop to calculate the GHG emissions factors of biofuels was critical. A framework that was less than comprehensive could end up creating incentives for U.S. biofuels that would actually lead to more GHG emissions than the traditional fossil-based fuels they replace. Two accounting factors were particularly important:
How to account for carbon dioxide emissions that occur in the future. WRI recommended applying a zero discount rate over a shorter time horizon, rather than the more popular proposal of a two percent discount rate over a 100 year time horizon. Our recommendation was more consistent with prior research and would minimize the risk of artificially inflating the emissions reductions benefits of bio-fuels.
Whether or not to include the emissions associated with indirect land-use changes. For example, a shift from soybean to corn farming in Iowa to make ethanol can result in a ripple effect that drives land conversion for soya in the Brazilian Cerrado. This land conversion may result in significant emissions of carbon dioxide. The uncertainty of indirect land use impacts does not render them insignificant. WRI recommended that emissions associated with global indirect land-use changes be included in the framework, along with approaches for refining the estimates as the science improves.
EPA adopted both our recommendations. In particular, the adoption of an accounting methodology that accounts for the emissions associated with global indirect land use impacts of domestic policy sets a precedent that has significant implications well beyond the biofuels sector.
WRI was the pioneering voice on the zero discount rate. WRI’s Biofuels and the Time Value of Carbon was the first and, to the best of our knowledge, only publication to address the issue of how to choose a discount rate for physical carbon in the context of biofuels accounting. WRI’s Liz Marshall was selected as one of five professional peer reviewers for the time parameters portion of the RFS rule. WRI’s perspective on indirects, set forth in Biofuels, Carbon, and Land-use Change and Rules for Fuels, also provided the analytical foundation for advocacy NGOs during the course of this debate.
In January 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued new guidance clarifying that publicly-traded companies need to disclose financially material impacts related to climate change. Material impacts may range from compliance costs related to emissions regulation, to the physical impacts of changing weather patterns on operations.
The SEC ruling creates more incentives for capital to flow to sustainable businesses, while also improving awareness of the importance of climate change among the financial community. Companies are expected to improve GHG emissions accounting and reporting - an important stepping stone to managing and reducing corporate carbon footprints. WRI plans to continue engagement with the SEC, companies, and other advocates to help develop more specific rules, methodologies, and guidance relating to environmental disclosure.
For the past decade, WRI’s Markets and Enterprise Program (MEP) has been working to analyze material impacts of climate change on companies. MEP’s publication, Coming Clean, was one of the first reports identifying the need for improved corporate disclosure and providing specific recommendations for the SEC that were grounded in detailed financial analysis. Since then, WRI has worked closely with the investment community, as well as businesses, to foster support for better financial analysis and climate change-related reporting.
Meanwhile, WRI’s GHG Protocol team has worked over the last six years to build the foundation, constituency and the accounting infrastructure for companies to engage in corporate emissions disclosure and prepare for exactly this type of requirement. The GHG Protocol’s Corporate Accounting and Reporting Standard in particular is an important precursor to the SEC requirements. The SEC guidance refers to three business programs – the Carbon Disclosure Project, The Climate Registry, and the Global Reporting Initiative - that illustrate increasing corporate disclosure of climate change impacts and risks. All three of the programs’ greenhouse gas emissions reporting components are based on the GHG Protocol’s Corporate Standard.
Since 2007, both the Markets and Enterprise Program and the GHG Protocol Team have also been working through an international collaborative effort – the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), which includes the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), The Climate Registry (TCR), CERES, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to inform and guide SEC and other national financial accounting regulatory boards to address the issue of climate change reporting in the financial statements.
In October 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 13514 on Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, requiring the federal government to lead by example towards a clean energy economy and measure, report and reduce, direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions. The EO also set an important precedent by mandating that a national government reduce GHG emissions from its own operations.
“Every year, the Federal Government consumes more energy than any other single organization or company in the United States,” said President Obama. “That energy goes towards lighting and heating government buildings, fueling vehicles and powering federal projects across the country and around the world. The government has a responsibility to use that energy wisely, to reduce consumption, improve efficiency, use renewable energy, like wind and solar, and cut costs.”
The collective emissions reduction targets established by the EO (a 28% total reduction in scope 1 (direct emissions) and scope 2 (indirect emissions associated with purchased electricity) below 2008 levels by 2020 and a 13% reduction in scope 3 (other indirect emissions)) will ensure significant reductions in the U.S., while demonstrating that ambitious reductions are achievable by other large U.S. entities and corporations. By including scope 2 and 3 emissions, the EO will also drive important shifts throughout the government’s vast supply chain.
To comply with the EO, agencies will conduct GHG inventories based on the GHG accounting principles articulated in the newly developed GHG Protocol for the US Public Sector, which outlines how government agencies in the U.S. – whether federal, state or local – should develop a GHG inventory. WRI coordinated a large stakeholder process to develop this protocol that included over 50 U.S. agencies, ensuring its relevance and utility to the government. This extensive engagement during the process also built capacity within the federal agencies for effective emissions measurement and management. The federal government also drew upon the principles in the draft of the GHG Protocol Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Standard in developing rules to account for Scope 3 emissions.
On May 20, 2011, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a two-year moratorium on new permits for use of natural forest and peatland on 74 million hectares of land - about three times the size of Great Britain. The bold initiative is the pillar of a $1 billion Indonesia-Norway partnership agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation (often referred to as REDD+).
Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, due mainly to deforestation. The country has major timber and paper industries and is a leading producer of palm oil, aiming to double production of the commodity by 2020. The moratorium will allow time for Indonesia’s government to review and improve national processes for issuing new permits for forest concessions.
Its operation will be monitored via a map to be published by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and a REDD+ Task Force. This will be reviewed every six months and open for public comment, including by civil society groups and the media. This openness and transparency is vital for the partnership’s credibility and accountability.
For seven years, WRI and its Indonesian partners have worked to strengthen the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s capacity to document the country’s extensive forest resources and concessions. WRI’s work in support of Indonesia’s new national strategy for palm oil production on degraded land has included mapping, economic and legal analysis, and a pilot project designed to divert planned oil palm concessions away from virgin forests onto nearby degraded land. This strategy provided a powerful argument for the government to use with industry in pushing for the moratorium. WRI’s forestry and climate experts also worked with the Indonesian and Norwegian governments to make data and maps related the moratorium publicly available.
Managing carbon is not just good for the environment. It’s also a way for business to save money, cut risks, and create new business opportunities.
The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), created by WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is the leading international standard for companies to measure their carbon emissions so they can manage, report on, and reduce them.
In 2011, the GHG Protocol launched two new standards in response to demand from both the market and stakeholders for greenhouse gas emissions information across a company or product’s value chain. The Corporate Value Chain Standard can help a company identify which parts of its value chain it should target to reduce emissions. The Product Life Cycle Standard may be used to develop new low-carbon product lines that can give companies a competitive edge or pinpoint climate-related risks in a product’s life cycle.
The new standards took three years to develop. Close to 2,500 partners worldwide participated and 60 companies from 17 countries road-tested the standards. Even before their release, two major initiatives – The Sustainability Consortium and the Consumer Goods Forum – committed to use the standards. Their endorsement is a breakthrough and a clear signal that the new standards will be widely adopted by companies globally. The Consumer Goods Forum, for example, represents over 400 companies and retailers with a combined three trillion dollars in sales.
By enabling corporations to reduce their use of carbon, the new GHGP standards can play a role in significant global GHG emission reductions.
Wading through the vast sea of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data can be a real challenge. To help simplify the process and make such data more accessible, today the World Resources Institute is launching the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, or CAIT 2.0.
The free, online portal provides data on GHG emissions from 186 countries and all 50 U.S. states, as well as other climate data. CAIT 2.0 allows users to view, sort, visualize, and download data sets for comparative analysis. By providing comprehensive emissions data in an easy-to-use tool, users from government, business, academia, the media, and civil society can more effectively explore, understand, and communicate climate change issues.
A growing number of countries and companies now measure and manage their emissions through greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. Cities, however, lack a common framework for tracking their own emissions—until now.