Air & Waste Management Association (A&WMA)

Climate Change Initiatives are Heating Up in the United States

If you thought the reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would not affect you, think again! The climate change issue is heating up in the United States even though we are not a party to the Kyoto Protocol. With the number of extreme weather events tripling in the past 50 years, the global average level of the sea increasing, and the amount of snow cover declining,1 U.S. citizens want to know what is causing these phenomena. Could it be global warming? As a result, federal, regional, state, and local governments are taking a stance on climate change and the reporting of GHG emissions by industrial companies and municipalities under their governance. These entities agree that the first step to getting a handle on the effects of GHG emissions on climate change is to determine the current contribution of man-made emissions sources.


The Kyoto Protocol was signed into force on February 16, 2005, for the 141 countries that ratified it. The Protocol seeks to reduce emissions of six GHGs—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—for developed countries by 5.2% from 1990 levels during the first compliance period, 2008–2012. What is the purpose of the Protocol? GHGs are believed to be the underlying force behind global warming. The increased concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere enhances the absorption and emission of infrared radiation. Excessive amounts of CO2 cause radiation to remain in the atmosphere trapping heat and consequently heating the earth’s surface. As reported in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report: Climate Change 2001,1 there are both anthropogenic and natural effects causing the increase in GHGs in the atmosphere. Anthropogenic changes are caused by humans (e.g., combustion of fossil fuels, aerosol emissions) and natural effects are those occurring naturally as a part of the earth’s natural greenhouse effect (e.g., volcano eruptions, photosynthesis).2 While there is no conclusive evidence on which cause is having the most adverse effect on the earth’s surface temperature, it is obvious that there are changes taking place in the environment that need to be addressed (see Figures 1 and 2). While GHG emissions reporting is mandatory in the European Union (EU) for a majority of the industrial and power generation sector, GHG emissions reporting in the United States is still mostly voluntary. However, there are initiatives abounding on the local, state, regional, and federal levels on which there should be focus.

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