CLIMATE MITIGATION: REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN NEVADA

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) occur naturally in the environment and are an important factor in ensuring the planet’s habitability. However, excessive GHG emissions from human activities are accumulating in the atmosphere, upsetting the natural balance, and rapidly driving up temperatures across the planet, the United States, and here in Nevada (NCA 2017; IPCC 2013). The shift in temperature has caused cascading impacts that pose risks to our state. Mitigating GHG emissions is imperative to ensure that we minimize the dangers of climate change for future generations.

To date, 189 countries have committed to reducing global emissions by 7.6% annually for the next 10 years in order to keep warming well below 2ºC (3.6ºF). China is currently responsible for the majority of global GHG emissions (>30%), but in September 2020 China committed to net-zero emissions by 2060. The United States ranks second in the world for emissions (~15%), but has the highest GHG emissions per capita of any country (UNEP 2019). Although statewide emissions represent 0.68% of the U.S. total with 0.9% of the U.S. population, the ambitious goals necessary to reduce the risks of climate change across the planet require action by everyone, everywhere.

The U.S. federal government under the Trump administration has not adopted any emissions-reduction targets. However, Nevada is committed to reducing economy-wide GHG emissions along with the other States that are members of the US Climate Alliance. With the passage of SB 254, Nevada has adopted aggressive emissions-reduction targets: 28% below 2005 by 2025, 45% by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s (NDEP) 2019 GHG inventory (Box 1), under current policies and based on the best available science, Nevada is currently on a path to reduce economy-wide GHG emissions by 24% in 2025 (4% short of the 28% goal) and by 26% in 2030 (19% short of the 45% goal). Consequently, new mitigation-focused policies, programs, investments, and regulations are needed to meet these goals and put the state on the path toward realizing net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Under current policies and based on the best available science, Nevada is currently on a path to reduce economy-wide GHG emissions by 24% in 2025 (4% short of the 28% goal) and by 26% in 2030 (19% short of the 45% goal). Consequently, new mitigation-focused policies, programs, investments, and regulations are needed to meet these goals and put the state on the path toward realizing net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.

Box 1: Nevada’s GHG Emissions

The portfolio of emissions across Nevada mirror the trends occurring across the United States, where transportation-sector emissions (35%) now exceed those from the energy sector. However, emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, a potent GHG used as a substitute for ozone-depleting substances, are rapidly growing. These industrial-sector emissions are associated with air conditioning and refrigeration. Under the current suite of policies in place, energy-sector emissions are projected to decline through 2030, while transportation-related emissions modestly decline, then flatten. Industrial emissions are expected to increase through the future, while those tied to the residential and commercial sectors stabilize. The carbon sequestration capacity of natural and working lands, represented in the land use and land change sectors, represents significant uncertainty for two reasons. First, there is little information about the amount of carbon stored in high desert landscape, as most research has focused on forests. Second, burning of forested ecosystems by wildfires releases large quantities of GHGs, which can dramatically alter annual emissions depending on the extent of burning in a given season. – from the 2019 NDEP GHG inventory

How Will the Impacts of COVID-19 Affect GHGs?

The unprecedented global shutdown driven by the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020 brought dramatic declines in many forms of transportation as people were confined to their homes. The dramatic decline in travel drove a ~17% reduction in daily global CO2 emissions at the peak of global stay-at-home orders in April 2020 compared with the year prior. Total annual emissions for 2020 may decline by 4–7% relative to 2019 depending on the trajectory of the pandemic and related restrictions (Le Quere et al., 2020). However, the overall impact of these reductions on total atmospheric GHG concentrations and global temperatures will be imperceptible. The rate at which human activities are adding GHGs to the air far exceeds the natural processes that remove them. This has been occurring for at least the last century, at rapidly increasing rates. Even a full year of reduced emissions cannot significantly compensate for the large amount of GHGs already released into the atmosphere. Total concentrations of CO2 are only expected to be 0.3 ppm below what they would have been had the world not had to stay home in the spring (Betts et al., 2020). To put this in perspective, from 2010 to 2020, the annual increase in concentrations averaged 2.4 ppm, or 24 ppm in total. The reduction in activity during spring 2020 will have a marginal impact on reducing global temperatures and demonstrates the scale of global action necessary to reduce GHG emissions.

CLIMATE MITIGATION POLICIES: DIGGING DEEPER INTO WHAT NEVADA CAN DO

The 2020 State Climate Strategy provides an integrated framework for evaluating climate policies. Given the complexities of climate change, it is imperative that policies to reduce GHG emissions be approached systematically so there is a clear understanding of the benefits and tradeoffs. This will optimize effectiveness of each given policy and therefore maximize the benefits for all Nevadans.

The policies contemplated in this strategy were drawn from the NDEP’s 2019 GHG inventory, which includes a catalog of policy options that could further reduce statewide GHG emissions, as required by SB 254. This list was developed by identifying climate mitigation policies adopted by other states (e.g., Oregon, Colorado) and through consultation with experts at the U.S. Climate Alliance. Some of what is included in the GHG emissions inventory list is conceptual. However, there are very specific policies identified throughout the document. These targeted ideas were considered in further detail by interagency working groups.

The 2020 State Climate Strategy provides an integrated framework for evaluating climate policies.

These teams applied a consistent, risk-based framework using four different metrics to evaluate what is and isn’t known about the potential outcomes of adopting a specific policy in Nevada. The working groups completed this evaluation for 17 policies. Every attempt was made to analyze all of the specific policies, programs, and regulations outlined in the NDEP policy catalog. However, time, resources, and the realities of COVID-19 constrained the assessment’s comprehensiveness. Fortunately, this strategy is a living document and the working groups will continue evaluating options under current policies identified in the strategy and periodically reassess them, as well as evaluate new and emerging policies.

For each policy, the working group assigned a color-coded designation for each metric that indicates the current level of knowledge about outcomes expected should the policy be adopted in Nevada. A yellow designation does not necessarily mean that a policy is inappropriate for Nevada. Rather; it indicates that the current level of information and analysis for a given metric is highly uncertain or incomplete. Conversely, a dark green designation does not indicate that a policy is appropriate for Nevada; it indicates the current level of information and analysis for a metric has a high level of confidence or certainty.

This metric-based approach to policy evaluation is unique and appropriate for Nevada. It establishes a framework with specific metrics designed to track progress and policy impact, while informing future public policy discussions and choices.

The four metrics and the color-coded assessment guidance are briefly described below.

Metric 1: GHG Emissions-Reduction Potential: What emissions reductions can be achieved, and on what timeline, by implementing the policy?

Insufficient or highly uncertain information resulting in significant uncertainty about the magnitude of the emissions reduction & timeline

Minimal and/or uncertain information resulting in uncertainty about the magnitude of the emissions reduction & timeline

Adequate and/or somewhat certain information resulting in uncertainty about the magnitude of the emissions reduction & timeline

Robust information with little uncertainty resulting in confidence about the magnitude of the emissions reduction & timeline

Metric 2: Climate Justice Considerations: Have communities of color, low-income households, and tribal partners (i.e., Indigenous communities) been directly engaged and consulted about the challenges and opportunities associated with the policy? Will the policy avoid any negative impacts to vulnerable communities, provide the opportunity for a net benefit, and/or reconcile broader social justice issues?

Insufficient information about challenges & opportunities
Significant additional stakeholder consultation needed
-OR-
Significant negative impacts to vulnerable communities with no benefit

Minimal information about challenges & opportunities
Additional stakeholder consultation needed
-OR-
Primarily negative impacts to vulnerable communities with little to no benefit

Adequate information about challenges & opportunities
Minimal additional stakeholder consultation needed
-OR-
Primarily positive outcomes for vulnerable communities with minimal negative impacts

Robust information about challenges & opportunities
Comprehensive stakeholder consultation
-OR-
Positive outcomes for vulnerable communities

Metric 3: Budgetary & Economic Implications: What resources are needed for the policy’s implementation and administration? What is the long-term return on investment? 

Insufficient or highly uncertain information available to assess

Minimal or uncertain information to inform estimates of the economic implications

Fair degree of confidence in estimates of economic implications with minimal uncertainty

Robust estimates and full picture of economic implications

Metric 4: Implementation Feasibility: What are the legal barriers to the policy’s implementation?

Legal hurdles will be difficult to overcome (e.g. federal law, NV constitutional issues) and require significant time and process

Legal challenges exist, but are surmountable; may take a bit of time to navigate implementation

Minimal legal challenges

Authority exists and clear path forward

The policies evaluated using this framework are organized by the GHG emissions sectors identified by NDEP. Recognizing the complexities of these policies and how they may be interconnected, each policy is labeled with an icon that represents different relevant policy spheres (Table 1).

Table 1.

GHG Emissions SectorPolicy SpheresIcon
TransportationVehicle Emissions Reductions, Mass Transit
ElectricityPower Generation, Transmission
IndustryOzone-depleting Substance Substitutes
Residential & CommercialGreen Building Standards, Energy Efficiency
Land Use & Land ChangeNatural & Working Lands, Development & Land Use, Urban Planning