MARKET REPORT: Gauging Greenhouse Gases

Getting U.S. corporations to voluntarily report anything about their businesses is not easy. So when the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the independent statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), asked companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, it should have been nearly impossible.

However, since 1994, the EIA has collected and released an annual registry, “Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program,” documenting greenhouse gas emissions and reductions from industries such as electric power, automobile manufacturing, coal mining and petroleum. The latest report, released earlier this year, documents voluntary reduction data from 2000 and records voluntary measures to reduce, avoid or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. To date, 222 U.S. companies and organizations have reported that they had undertaken 1,882 projects to reduce or sequester greenhouse gases.

“The program continues to grow in terms of the number of reporters and reported greenhouse gas emission reductions,” says Paul McArdle, program manager for the Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program. “Both the number of reporters and reported reductions increased in the 2000 data year.”

Since 1994, the number of reporters has grown by 106 percent. The 1,882 projects listed represent a 9 percent increase over the 1,722 projects reported in 1999. Total projects reported also have grown by 197 percent since 1994.

Total reductions in emissions and increases in carbon sequestration increased to 269 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in the 2000 data year, compared with 235 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in 1999.

McArdle says this year's report was improved to allow the reductions reporting to be broken out by source: direct, indirect, sequestration and unspecified. Direct reductions are from sources owned or controlled by the reporter. Indirect reductions are from sources owned by entities other than the reporter but result from actions taken by the reporter. For instance, indirect reductions are from a decrease in electricity consumption by the reporting entity, but the emission reductions actually occur at the power plant owned by the reporter's electricity supplier. Sequestration represents increases in carbon storage, usually in forests. Unspecified reductions are not specified as direct or indirect.

Expressed as a percentage of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2000, reported direct emission reductions represented 2.7 percent of the total, while reported indirect reductions were 0.9 percent, unspecified reductions 0.2 percent and carbon sequestration represented 0.1 percent.

Of the organizations reporting for 2000, 100 voluntarily provided estimates of emissions and/or emission reductions for their entire organization. Of those, 96 provided their entry-wide greenhouse gas emissions — a 21 percent increase from 1999, when 83 entities reported entity-level emissions. These entities reported direct greenhouse gas emissions of 1,036 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to about 15 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2000.

Ninety-two entity-level reporters also disclosed emission reductions, including 164.1 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent of direct emission reductions, 27.8 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent of indirect emission reductions, and 7.5 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent of emission reductions resulting from carbon sequestration projects.

Fourteen percent, or 265 of the reported projects reduced methane and nitrous oxide emissions from waste management systems, animal husbandry operations, oil and gas systems, or coal mines. Forty-four projects reduced emissions of halogenated substances, including perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

McArdle says this year's report reflects increased participation in materials management, which included the solid waste industry.

“While I wouldn't characterize it as a surprise, we did see continued growth in reporting from organizations involved in solid waste management and other materials-handling activities,” he says.

Activities involving the management of various materials affect a wide range of emission sources and greenhouse gases. Reporting on materials management activities has increased nearly fivefold since the program began, McArdle says. Materials management includes using biomass fuels, recycling and source reduction, avoiding methane emissions, etc.

Notably, landfill gas (LFG) recovery accounted for 63 percent of the 345 projects reported for 2000. In addition to the 18 methane emission avoidance projects, other materials management projects reported included recycling and source reduction of solid waste (34), recycling of halogenated substances (17) and biomass burning (9).

Perhaps most important, 65 of the reporters for 2000 have made commitments to provide financial support for activities related to greenhouse gas reductions or to reduce emissions primarily between 2000 and 2005.

These efforts could not come at a better time. The EIA also prepares the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which projects carbon dioxide emissions through 2020. The 2002 AEO suggests that carbon dioxide emissions will increase by 1.5 percent annually between 2000 and 2020, according to McArdle.

The full report can be downloaded from EIA's website at Printed copies are available by calling (202) 512-1800.