U.S. Falling Short Without Federal Policy – 3.7% Increase in Emissions Since 1990

U.S. Falling Short Without Federal Policy – 3.7% Increase in Emissions Since 1990

Recently Reported Greenhouse Gas Level: 6,776.6 Metric Tons in 2018 (including CO2, CH4, and fluoridated gases), an Increase of 3.7% over 1990 Levels (Source: USEPA)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2018 reported that U.S. emissions in 2018 totaled 6,766.6 million metric tons (MMT), netting 5,903.2 MMT after sinks. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reports that the United States is single-handedly responsible for 13.4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels.

U.S. emissions composition is broken down into the following:

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): 5,424,9 MMT
  • Methane (CH4): 634.5 MMT
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O): 434.5 MMT
  • Fluorinated Gases (HFCs, PFCs, SF6, and NF3): 182.8 MMT

From 1990 to 2018, total U.S. emissions have risen by 3.7%, according to the U.S. EPA with a decline of 12% between 2005 and 2017. This period of decline was in part due to a range of market- and policy-related factors influencing the country’s industrial operations. Electric power sector emissions fell 27% as a result of a shift from coal to natural gas, increased use of renewable energy, and a leveling of electricity demand. Improved vehicle efficiency helped reduce transportation-related emissions by nearly 6 percent; although transportation emissions have been increasing since 2012. U.S. emissions for the year 2020 projected to be 9% lower than emissions from 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the country’s operations.

The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule—the U.S.’s strongest policy to reduce GHG emissions—sets federal standards for corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and CO2 emissions standards for model years 2021-2026 passenger cars and light trucks. Under the Trump Administration, this policy has been left standing idly after four years of rollbacks. While the previous rule (issued in 2012 after its predecessor was issued in 2009) would have required 5% annual increases in fuel efficiency, the 2020 rule only requires increased standards by 1.5% each year.

Both the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 and California’s Senate Bill 32 (passed in 2020) require the state of California to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to net-zero by 2045, respectively. Interestingly enough, these two policies regulate 7% of total U.S. emissions. Under the CGWSA, the state met its 2020 target in 2016, reducing total emissions approximately 15% from 1990 levels.

Sub-nationally, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regulates power-sector emissions from ten states and saw power-sector emissions reductions of about 45% from 2005 to 2017. The program cap will now decrease 30% from 2020 to 2030.

Activity Ratings

Emissions Levels: *** / 4 stars

U.S. emissions have decreased by 10-25% over the past 10 years.

Existing Policies: *** / 4 stars

As seen above, state- and regional-level policies intended to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have had some impact on the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the Trump Administration’s rollbacks to key policies have left the U.S. without broad federal policy to regulate emissions from all states.

Combined Activity Rating: ****** / 8 stars


Andrew Wheeler, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator

Email: Wheeler.andrew@Epa.gov

Telephone: 202-564-4700

Address: USEPA Headquarters – William Jefferson Clinton Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

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This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard U.S. Country Manager Stephanie Gagnon

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