Report Suggests Emissions Grew 22 Percent Since 1990

posted in: December 2008 | 0

How high, exactly, will the bar be?

One of the first requirements needed to carry out Hawai`i’s pioneering greenhouse-gas regulation law was to develop a benchmark for future regulation. Under the law – Act 234 of the 2007 Legislature – Hawai`i’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are to be no higher than what they were in 1990. An important element in that regulation, then, is determining with some degree of precision just who was emitting what nearly two decades ago.

The law says that DBEDT is to complete “an updated inventory of emission sources” in 1990 by December 31, 2008, starting from estimates contained in a report published by the state in 1997. To refine and verify those estimates, DBEDT hired a consultant, ICF International, whose report was the subject of a hearing in Honolulu last month.

So, just how much work lies ahead of Hawai`i if it is to retreat to 1990 emission levels within the next decade?

If aviation emissions are included, not much at all. We’re practically there already. But if they’re not, and according to Act 234, aviation emissions are not to be included in the 1990 emission inventory, the state must reduce its 2007 emissions of greenhouse gases by a huge amount – about three million metric tons. To give an idea of how much gas that is, all aviation emissions for 2007 totaled 3.80 MMT, according to ICF.


In 1990, total emissions, including offsetting carbon “sinks,” came to 19.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or other gases whose atmospheric warming potential was measured in terms of its carbon-dioxide equivalence, ICF found. In 2007, total emissions of CO2 and its equivalents came to 20.4 MMT, or roughly a 3 percent increase.

When aviation emissions are excluded, 1990 emissions total 13.62 MMT, and 2007 emissions total 16.61, a roughly 22 percent increase. Broken down, under the “excluding aviation” scenario, energy emissions increased 18 percent, transportation emissions increased 21 percent, and electric power emissions increased 27 percent.

At a public hearing last month on the draft inventory, ICF representatives Anne Choate and Susan Asam explained that the company had begun its work in late summer and would continue to crunch through data before the final report is due by the end of the year.

The latest total estimates represent a significant departure from the state’s earlier estimates of 1990 emissions as well as those for intervening years. The 1997 state report figured net emissions for 1990 were about 15 MMT and included air travel within state and excluded military fuels altogether. ICF’s 13.62 MMT figure excludes air travel emissions, but includes military fuels. ICF’s John Venezia also explained at a Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Task Force meeting last month that recalculated emissions from electric power generation came in higher by about 18 percent than they did in the 1997 report.

The ICF report also is at variance with other recent statistics compiled by DBEDT suggesting that at the end of 2005, Hawai`i greenhouse gas emissions were about 7.5 percent higher than they were in 1990. (For details, see the January 2008 edition of Environment Hawai`i.)

Low Turnout

At last month’s public hearing at the State Capitol on the draft inventory, about two dozen people attended and only a handful of them actually offered comments, including one man who merely testified to plug his plug-in hybrid car company, and another who suggested climate change was not a result of fossil fuel emissions but instead from cow flatulence and events such as the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Another testifier, Henry Curtis of Life of the Land, complained that the inventory did not factor in emissions associated with all of the goods that are imported here as well as the carbon dioxide within the soil.

— Patricia Tummons/Teresa Dawson

Volume 19, Number 6 December 2008

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