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Connecticut falling well short of greenhouse gas emission goals

Connecticut is not on track to meet its statutory greenhouse gas emission goals, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), putting into doubt whether it can meet the clean air goals set by the state legislature.

DEEP’s latest report, the 2018 Connecticut Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, tracks the state’s progress toward meeting the economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets established in the Global Warming Solutions Act.

The report, which provides an overview of emissions for the year 2018 – the most recent year for which there is data available – and emission trends since 1990, found that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle exhaust and building heating and cooling are actually increasing.

That, said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes, puts the state’s practices at odds with the substantial reductions that will be needed to meet the 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas  reduction targets set by the General Assembly.

“This report demonstrates that there is urgent work to be done for Connecticut to reduce our share of the greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change,” Dykes said.

“Taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not only help to mitigate the harm and the costs to future generations,” she continued, “but it will also deliver immediate benefits to Connecticut communities today, in terms of cleaner air, better health, more affordable transportation, growing jobs, strengthened infrastructure and better quality of life.”

In 2018, Connecticut emitted 42.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – 7.3% below 1990 emission levels and 17.8% below 2001 emission levels, but 1.2 tons, or approximately 2.9%, higher than the state’s 2020 emissions goal.

While the latest figure represents a 24% decrease from 2004 – when the state’s emissions peaked – it is a 2.7% increase from the 2017 inventory.

At 15.8 million metric tons, transportation emissions exceeded the combined emissions of the next two largest sectors, electricity and residential, and have actually risen since 1990 despite a 16% improvement in per-vehicle mile emissions over the same period.

Despite significant improvements in fuel economy since 1990, vehicle miles traveled has increased at a faster rate, thereby increasing transportation-sector emissions.

The 2018 report indicated that transportation emissions must fall by about one-third by 2030 in order to meet the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction target for that year.

While DEEP identified increasing transportation emissions as the most worrying trend, the 2018 Inventory also showed a modest increase in GHG emissions associated with heating and cooling buildings, primarily due to weather conditions. But that slight increase is not in line with the approximately 34% reduction in emissions from the built environment that will be needed to meet the 2030 target, according to the 2018 report.

Meanwhile, the 2018 greenhouse gas inventory showed encouraging results in electricity sector emissions. The inventory documents a decline in electricity-sector emissions of 32% since 1990 and 35% since 2001. That reduction was due to increased energy efficiency in businesses and homes and, especially, a continuing regional shift from carbon-intensive fuels such as petroleum and coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas and zero-carbon renewables.

The sector’s emissions in 2018 were down 4.7% from 2017, even though somewhat warmer weather in 2018 increased electricity demand for air conditioning.

“The results found in this inventory make clear that significantly reducing transportation emissions – and meeting the state’s overall emission goals – will require not only strategies to further improve fuel economy, especially by boosting adoption of zero-emission vehicles, but also strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled,” DEEP said in a statement.

“This will require pursuing strategies recommended by the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in its 2021 report,” it continued, “including implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program to set a limit on transportation GHG emissions and support $1 billion in clean transportation investments and adopting more stringent emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

“In the buildings sector,” it added, “substantial GHG emissions reductions can be achieved by authorizing municipalities to implement an ‘energy stretch code’ to require large new or renovated buildings to use at least 10% per square foot less energy.

The Global Warming Solutions Act established a requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, but does not provide for general authority to regulate emissions to meet the targets or mechanisms to enforce the targets, as similar statutes in other states provide.

According to the 2021 GC3 report, climate change will have substantial impacts on Connecticut, some of which are already being experienced. Because of greenhouse gas  emissions already released into the atmosphere, those impacts will accelerate between now and 2050, including rising seas, higher temperatures, heavier rainfall events, more frequent droughts and hurricanes with stronger winds and more precipitation.

In the absence of action, warming will accelerate and sea levels will rise by more than 6 feet by 2100. Lowering emissions to prevent the impacts of climate change is the most affordable and effective way to address climate change.

“As the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirmed, we cannot wait to act,” Dykes said. “The harmful impacts of climate change are here, now, and increasing. It is not too late to avoid the worst case. We must rapidly reduce emissions now to mitigate the harm and the costs to future generations.”


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