In a new report, the Oregon Global Warming Commission says the state isn't expected to come within striking distance of its 2020 or 2050 goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The commission says the latest numbers show "a perilous reversal" in the downward trend of emissions from cars and trucks over the past few years. In short, people are driving more – and in bigger vehicles.
"Transportation emissions for 10-12 years had been going down," said Commission Chair Angus Duncan. "But now they have turned back upwards."
Transportation makes up more than a third of the state's total greenhouse gas emissions. Overall emissions dropped 15 percent from 2000-2014, but they jumped back up 5 percent from 2014 to 2015 – driven largely by a spike in vehicle miles driven.
In 2007, the state set goals of reducing emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Duncan said the upswing puts the 2020 goal out of reach.
“We have a long way to go to reach the state’s greenhouse gas goals," Duncan said. "But if we’re going upwards, we’re not only far away but we’re going in the wrong direction.”
Last year the state approved a plan to phase out electricity from coal-fired power plants by 2030. But Duncan said the state will need to implement similar reforms in the transportation sector to reach its long-term goals for reducing emissions.
The commission is strongly advising the Oregon Legislature to pass a transportation package this session that includes investments in public transit and electric vehicles. Those investments could help the state meet the interim goal of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.
The report also includes new findings on the value of Oregon forests in storing carbon. While the state emits about 60 million tons of carbon a year, new data show the state's forests store about 3 billion tons. Duncan said the new data puts Oregon in a league of its own, as the commission completes its Forest Carbon Accounting Project.
"It’s something as far as we know that nobody else in the country has, so we will be breaking new ground with this project," he said. The fluctuation of carbon in our forests ... could end up dwarfing every other carbon consideration in the state. So, it’s important we get a handle eon it."
The commission is advising the Oregon Legislature defer any actions that would affect the carbon balance of the state's forests. Duncan said he's interested in exploring the idea of setting carbon acquisition targets that would require forests to accrue a certain amount of carbon every year.