2021 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Indicates Statewide Emissions Rebounded Post-Pandemic, Consistent with Trends Across New England and Nation

Published on Monday, June 17, 2024

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced today that Rhode Island’s statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rebounded in 2021. At 9.82 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e), emissions increased by 8.9% from pandemic-impacted 2020 levels. The year-over-year increase in Rhode Island’s emissions was not an anomaly; state-level emissions increased across New England and the United States in 2021. Over a longer timescale, Rhode Island’s emissions continue to decrease, dropping 14.4% since 1990. The updated findings emerged from an annual assessment of Rhode Island’s GHG emissions conducted by DEM air quality specialists. The annual inventory is the primary scientific tool used by the Rhode Island Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) to assess progress towards the 2021 Act on Climate – authored by Senator Dawn Euer and Representative Lauren Carson and signed into law by Governor McKee in 2021 – to guide the state to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

“Although this increase was expected because emissions rebounded regionally and nationally following the first year of the pandemic, Rhode Island’s data is still trending in the right direction over a longer timescale,” said Governor Dan McKee. “This inventory should serve as a call to action that we must continue to work collaboratively to advance progress towards the next benchmark mandated by the Act on Climate to address the effects of climate change that Rhode Island’s communities are increasingly contending with.”

“DEM is pleased to release the 2021 inventory of GHG emissions in Rhode Island which reflects the year when the Act on Climate was signed into law,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “Not surprisingly, we saw the state’s emissions increase by 8.9% from the pandemic-impacted 2020 levels as the state’s economy rebounded following the first year of the pandemic. Since 2021, state agencies throughout the McKee administration have applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to help lower Rhode Island’s GHG emissions. The programs funded by the grants already received are aggressively being implemented and the benefits of those investments will be seen in future inventories. Additionally, we have begun developing the 2025 Climate Action Plan and the dashboard as required by the Act on Climate. All sectors, state agencies, and consumers need to continue working collaboratively to meet Rhode Island’s 2030 goal of reducing emissions by 45% from 1990 levels.”

In 2021, the majority of Rhode Island’s emissions were from transportation (37.7%), residential heating (20.4%), and electricity consumption (18.4%). Transportation emissions rose 5.4% from 2020 levels, mainly due to a significant increase in air travel and passenger vehicle traffic as pandemic restrictions eased. Emissions from residential heating increased 12.5% in 2021 due to New England experiencing a slightly colder and snowier winter compared to 2020. Residential heating emissions are sometimes referred to as part of the “buildings” sector alongside commercial heating (8.9% of total) and industrial heating (5.3% of total). Combined emissions from residential, commercial, and industrial heating were 3.65 MMTCO2e in 2021. Electricity consumption emissions, which originate from power plants connected to the regional electric grid, also rose by 12.5% in 2021. Neighboring states claimed a larger share of the region’s renewable energy in 2021. Resultingly, the electric grid’s carbon intensity from residual emissions increased Rhode Island’s electricity consumption emissions. DEM expects annual fluctuations in this sector as the electric grid evolves and states – including Rhode Island – work towards clean energy goals.

Since 1990, emissions from transportation, electricity consumption, and residential heating decreased by 14.5%, 30.9%, and 9.7%, respectively. Improvements in vehicle fuel economy, construction of wind and solar energy, and the conversion of homes and businesses to more efficient heating fuels are responsible for the most significant reductions. However, the state continues to lose natural and working lands to development; Rhode Island’s forests removed 14.0% less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in 2021 than 1990. While the state has made significant progress, Rhode Island must reduce emissions by 35.7% (3.51 MMTCO2e) to achieve the 2021 Act on Climate’s statutory requirement of 45% below 1990 levels by 2030. For information on the emissions trends of other sectors, read the 2021 inventory's summary report.

The Rhode Island 2022 Climate Update, which was approved by the EC4 in December 2022 as the State’s official plan to mitigate climate change, recommended several methodology improvements to the annual inventory. In response, DEM continues to align GHG accounting methods with international practices and now estimates emissions from the production of steel (1990-1994 only). Additionally, DEM updated the global warming potentials used to equate hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions with carbon dioxide to align with the rest of the inventory. See the summary report's Technical Appendix for more information on inventory methodology updates, including adjustments to previously released metrics.

Federal data sources, including from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) continue to be leveraged to estimate many sectors. Although EIA publishes new state-level estimates annually, data collection runs over two years behind and additional time is required to collect, calculate, and analyze emissions estimates. DEM remains committed to publishing accurate GHG estimates more quickly; the 2021 inventory was released with the shortest time delay in DEM’s history of tracking statewide GHG emissions.

For more information on climate science, the State’s efforts to mitigate climate change, and how to participate, please visit www.climatechange.ri.gov.