EPA Report Finds Significant Opportunity to Reduce GHG Emissions Through Materials and Land Management Practices
|US GHG emissions allocated to systems, and by materials and land management. The Land Sink, represented by the outer ring, offset the equivalent of 13% of total US anthropogenic emissions in 2006. The entire pie chart represents total US emissions in 2006; the inner portion of the pie chart represents net emissions. Greenfield development emissions are not included in the Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, and are therefore depicted outside of the pie chart. Source: EPA. Click to enlarge.|
There is great potential to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions through materials and land management practices such as recycling, waste reduction, smart growth, and by reusing formerly contaminated sites including brownfields, according to a new report by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER).
The report uses a systems-based analysis—where each system represents and comprises all the parts of the economy working to fulfill a particular need—rather than the sector-based view consistent with international guidance that enables parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to compare the relative contribution of different emission sources and GHGs to climate change.
Based on this approach, the report finds that 42% of US greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by materials management policies. This includes the impacts from extracting raw materials, food processing, and manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of products. Another 16 to 20% of emissions are associated with land management policies. That includes emissions from passenger transportation, which represent the bulk of emissions in the land management system; construction; and from lost vegetation when greenfields are cleared for development.
In addition, the equivalent of 13% of US emissions is absorbed by soil and vegetation and can also be protected or enhanced through land management policies.
How we manage our materials and land—two of OSWER’s three core areas—has a significant impact on US GHG emissions and sinks. People produce GHG emissions through a wide array of activities and across multiple locations, including the goods and services we consume, the homes in which we live, the buildings where we work, the transportation of ourselves and our goods from place to place, and the materials we discard. Meanwhile, energy consumption, materials use, municipal waste generation, and land development rates have all outpaced population growth over the last several decades in the United States, contributing to the impact of these activities. There are significant opportunities to reduce or avoid GHG emissions by improving our nation’s materials and land management practices; these approaches complement and support end-of-pipe controls, sector-based and other mitigation strategies.—“Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions through Materials and Land Management Practices”
Materials management refers to how material resources are managed as they flow through the economy, from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and, if necessary, disposal.
The term “Land management” describes separate or integrated strategies that influence the management and use of land to provide open space and habitat, food, natural resources, and places for people to live, work, and recreate. For example, land management includes the practices of developing land and managing land for agricultural and forestry purposes. The way we manage our land directly influences GHG emissions related to agriculture, the built environment (e.g., residential and commercial emissions), electricity use, and transportation.
Local passenger transport accounts for most of the emissions assigned to land management policies—some 15% of US GHG emissions in 2006. Another 9% of US GHG emissions comes from “other passenger transport”, allocated to “other policies” in the OSWER analysis.
Land development patterns strongly influence the number of vehicle miles traveled, and therefore, the GHG emissions from local passenger transport. This component represents emissions associated with short-distance driving of personal vehicles, which increases as the area of developed land increases, as well as bus travel and commuter rail.
The “other” transportation emissions are largely composed of emissions from long-distance passenger travel (90% of the remaining other transportation emissions), including emissions from aircraft, inter-city rail, inter-city buses, cars, and light trucks making long-distance trips, and upstream industrial sector fossil fuel combustion.
Local Passenger Transport is presented separately from Other Passenger Transport with the expectation that each is subject to a different set of prevention-oriented mitigation options. Local Passenger Transport emissions can be reduced through land management practices such as infill development and effective urban planning, as well as through enhancing public transit. These approaches complement sector-wide mitigation strategies, such as biofuel substitution or improved vehicle fuel economy because they reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled, reducing emissions from vehicle manufacturing, road maintenance, and non-GHG pollution as co-benefits. These strategies can work in concert with sector-wide strategies to reduce overall transportation emissions.
Land management policies have less of an effect on non-local transportation, which is why these emissions are presented separately. Prevention-oriented policies to reduce inter-city passenger transportation include activities which shift travel to lower-impact modes of travel and promote more efficient loading or movement within modes.—“Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Some of the materials and land management activities that have the potential to decrease emissions highlighted by the report include:
- reducing the use of non-packaging paper products;
- increasing municipal recycling, and recycling of construction and demolition debris;
- reusing land, including redevelopment of formerly contaminated lands;
- reusing formerly contaminated lands for renewable energy development; and
- encouraging smart growth. Smart growth has been shown to reduce household vehicle miles traveled by 20-40% compared with conventional development practices.
The report suggests that land management and materials management approaches should be part of the nation’s toolbox to meet the target of an 83% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.