Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Emits 11.1 Million Tons of CO2

County's first inventory of annual greenhouse gas emissions shows we're doing better than Cleveland or Nashville.

By - Dec 9th, 2020 05:47 pm
Milwaukee Center from City Hall. File photo by Erik Ljung.

Milwaukee Center from City Hall. File photo by Erik Ljung.

A new report shows that Milwaukee County generates approximately 11.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year. 

This number is an estimate produced by the county’s Office of Sustainability and is based on emissions data from 2018. And it’s measured by metric ton, which is bigger (2204 pounds) than the standard U.S. ton (2,000 pounds).

To put the figure in further perspective, 11.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide is equivalent to the energy used by 8.7 million homes in a single year or 2.4 million cars driven for a year. And keep in mind, the county’s population is just under one million.

The greenhouse gas inventory was calculated based on a protocol developed by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. It includes emissions from electricity used by the community, fuel used in stationary combustion equipment, all vehicles, energy used in water and wastewater treatment and distribution and emissions from waste generated by the community.

The county has never done a greenhouse gas emissions inventory before. This one establishes a baseline for the county as it works to reduce its emissions in order to keep up with policy commitments, and it provides much needed information to the Joint City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity.

The county has already committed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

A preliminary report from the task force shows that the county faces a steep challenge to meet its emissions goals. It will likely require major investments from state and federal governments and partnerships with major institutions in the area on shared goals.

The good news from the emission inventory, however, is that the county’s emissions are significantly lower than similarly sized counties in the U.S. For example, Cuyahoga County in Ohio — home to Cleveland — has a population only slightly larger than Milwaukee, but its total emissions are nearly double. And Davidson County in Tennessee — home to Nashville — has a smaller population and total emissions well above what Milwaukee generates.

General energy use — residential, industrial and commercial taken together– account for the majority or 64% of emissions. Within this group, industrial energy use is the biggest source of emissions. When it comes to commercial and residential energy use, most emissions come from burning natural gas. Meaning that pulling electricity from the grid ends up contributing the most to emissions.  

Transportation is the other main source of emissions in the county, accounting for 33% of the total. It includes public transit, all on-road vehicles, rail and airplanes.

And most of that (87%) is emitted by vehicles, which are the most common form of transportation in Milwaukee County. Whether personal commuter vehicles or for freight handing, together they produce approximately 3.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Carbon dioxide makes up the “vast majority” of greenhouse gas emissions in the county, according to the report. It comes from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gasoline, diesel and natural gas. Methane is second and comes mostly from the decomposition of waste in landfills and leaks from natural gas distribution systems. Third is nitrous oxide, which accounts for a small portion of emissions and primarily comes from wastewater treatment.

All three chemicals are produced through fossil fuel combustion, just to different degrees.

This report provides county residents the first estimate of how much emissions the community generates in a year. And it will serve as the baseline as the county and other local governments undertake the difficult process of reducing those emissions.

Read the full report here.

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Categories: Environment, MKE County

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