Bay Area Greenhouse Gases on the Rise

trafficjam_sm.jpgThe Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a new inventory of greenhouse gas sources, updating a report issued last year, for “base year 2002.” (Yes, the 2006 report was for 2002–let me know if that’s not confusing enough).

If you thought the heavy hitters were those half-dozen or so big, smelly oil refineries strung out between Richmond and Antioch, guess again. If you’re going for your climate geek merit badge, you’ll know that here in California, at least, the transportation sector is the reigning CO2 champ.

According to the updated report, transportation accounts for about 40% of emissions. Non-farm industrial & commercial emissions (from stationary sources) weigh in at 34%. Amaze your friends! If you take that transportation sector and break it down further, it turns out that cars and light-duty trucks account for almost 64% of those mobile emissions.

Okay, so you know all that. But what jumps out of the report are the projections of emissions through 2029, which the Air District arrived at by blending current levels with projected population and economic growth. The trend is not only upward but steeply upward, from 104 million metric tons (CO2 equivalent) to 128 million by 2020 and 150 million by 2029, an increase of 44% in two decades.

But good gravy, how can that be? Isn’t California “leading the way” in greenhouse gas reductions? Well, yes and no. Henry Hilken, Director of Planning and Research for the district, explained that because most of the state’s aggressive mitigation programs are not yet in place, his number crunchers did not take them into account in their calculations. In other words AB-32, cap-and-trade, the so-called Pavley regulations on tailpipe emissions, the low-carbon fuel standard–none of it is actually happening yet. The projections represent a future based on “business-as-usual.”

That’s likely to change, however. State regulators have been virtually assured that they’ll get the required EPA waiver to put stricter tailpipe regulations in place, shortly after President-elect Obama takes office, to use just one example. For more on this issue, listen to Sasha Khokha’s feature from The California Report, earlier this week. On the other side of the ledger, full implementation of AB-32 remains in question, as the funding mechanism is not fully in place.

How much would the picture change with all those–or even some of those measures in place? Hilken says he hasn’t attempted those calculations. It’s also likely that a long, deep recession could put a kink in the emissions trend. So while you can argue that the numbers in the inventory are a weak predictor of things to come, they are a useful snapshot of where we are–and a sobering assessment of where we’ll end up without an aggressive climate policy.

The Air District report tracks two types of carbon dioxide (CO2), along with methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and a handful of lesser-known gases. The non-CO2 emissions are converted mathematically to “CO2-equivalent” values.