Report: Greenhouse Gas Emissions are Rising in R.I.

The data has a three-year lag, meaning if the state fails to its meet first Act on Climate reduction goal in 2020, state officials won’t learn about it or be able to change course until 2023


PROVIDENCE — Greenhouse gas emissions are trending the wrong way in Rhode Island, and the state may have already failed its first Act on Climate goal.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has released its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, which combines federal and state data for 2018 – the most recent data available – to give a snapshot of how much carbon the state is releasing into the atmosphere.

The report shows greenhouse gas emissions increased 8.18 percent statewide in 2018, with almost an additional million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the air compared to the previous year. The rise puts Rhode Island 1.76 percent higher than its 1990 baseline emissions. The Act on Climate mandates the state reduce emissions 10 percent below that baseline by 2020.

But reducing statewide emissions is a slow ship to turn. The data on emissions derived from federal agencies has a three-year lag, meaning if R.I. fails its first Act on Climate reduction goal in 2020, state officials won’t learn about it or be able to change course until 2023.

And that time delay is the rub. When the Act on Climate passed, the two most recently released reports showed the state had emissions below its 1990 levels. In fact, in 2016, the state had already exceeded its first Act on Climate goal, with emissions 11.7 percent below 1990 levels. But since then the state has trended in the wrong direction.

“Following the Act on Climate there was really this strong message of increased urgency, and this data reinforces that message,” said Terry Gray, acting director of the DEM.

Emissions from vehicles, electricity consumption, heating and industry all saw increases between 2017 and 2018, according to DEM’s analysis. Officials stressed it was part of a regional trend; Connecticut reported a 2.7 percent increase in their 2018 emissions last year, and Massachusetts reported a 0.68 percent increase in 2018 emissions.

While the Act on Climate sets mandates for the state, it did not provide a path forward to reduce emissions. Additional efforts to reduce emissions via legislation have since stalled. The Transportation and Climate Initiative died last year after two out of the four jurisdictional areas – Massachusetts and Connecticut – announced the compact would not be approved in their respective states this year. State officials have no alternative plan to reduce vehicle emissions.

In the wake of the new data, environmental groups are calling for the General Assembly to pass a number of environmental bills being considered.

“Passing 100% Renewable Energy Standard by 2030, offshore wind legislation and the Electric Transportation Act would reverse the trend and help us meet our Act on Climate goals,” said Kai Salem, policy coordinator at Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

The legislature is debating potential legislation that could increase the amount of money steered toward renewable energy projects. The 100% Renewable Energy Standard would require companies to offset all electricity they sell to Rhode Island consumers by 2030. Additional bills would expand the state’s offshore wind capacity by 600 megawatts. But nothing has made it to Gov. Dan McKee’s desk for signature so far.

“The inventory underscores the need for this year’s statewide Climate Plan to include bold and dramatic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every sector,” said Hank Webster, Rhode Island director at the Acadia Center.

DEM officials said they expect the impact of the pandemic to show in 2020 data when it comes out next year. “We’re just going to have to take it year by year with the information as it comes out,” said Gray.

A detailed analysis of the state’s 2019 GHG inventory will be released in December. The state will also publish its 2022 update to its Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan by the end of this year.


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