Curbing Climate Change

By: Jessica Stavole, Energy & Built Environment Intern

In December of 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted and the first commitment period took place from 2008 to 2012.  Although the United Stated did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, the EIA reported that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 were the lowest since 1994, at 5,293 million metric tons, achieving a 5.2% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1997, meeting the Kyoto Protocol standard.

As shown in the above graph, the majority of carbon dioxide is emitted as a result of burning fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal and natural gas.  Carbon dioxide is considered to be one of the principal greenhouse gases (GHG), absorbing and emitting radiation within the thermal infrared range of light, ultimately contributing the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and climate change.

The principal greenhouse gases and their main causes are as follows:

  • Carbon Dioxide –burning of fossil fuels, solid waste, trees, chemical reactions, etc.
  • Methane — production and transportation of fossil fuels
  • Nitrous Oxide — agriculture activities, combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste
  • Ozone Depleting Substances  — refrigerants, air conditioning, etc.


Although GHG emissions are still a topic to cause much concern and mainly attributed to anthropogenic sources, measures taken to mitigate such emissions have become much more popular as of late.  The EPA Mandatory Reporting Rule has allowed for the collection of emissions data, showing those industries responsible for emissions and the correlated sources (see below tables). 


In addition, voluntary GHG registries such as Climate Action Reserve (CAR) and American Carbon Registry (ACR) exist in order to protect and promote early actions taken to reduce organizational GHG emissions.  Many companies within the U.S. have also undertaken projects that meet the registration requirements of the Kyoto Protocol in order to mitigate or reduce emissions.  Some companies aim to generate VERs, or a Voluntary Emissions Reduction, where one VER is equivalent to 1 tonne of CO2e emissions.  These are a type of carbon offset exchanged in a voluntary market for carbon credits.  In the United States, many companies enter into the voluntary market as a means to be socially responsible and in anticipation of a future compliance regime.

Lastly, many federal agencies such as the EPA, take into account the social cost of carbon (SCC) in order to determine climate benefits due to rules and regulations.  As defined by the EPA, the SCC is “an estimate of the economic damages associated with a small increase in (CO2) emissions, conventionally one metric ton, in a given year”.   Although these damages are often claimed to be underestimates, the SCC does help to assess CO2 reduction benefits, ensuring efficient and effective rulemakings.

Such rulemakings and analyses show that the United States is headed in the right direction in regards to curbing climate change, although such progress is not readily promoted.

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