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Transportation emissions in the U.S. - statistics & facts

The transportation sector is a major polluter in the U.S., releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions as well as air pollutants each year. While other U.S. industry sectors have experienced emission reductions since 1990, those attributable to the transportation sector have increased by more than 13 percent and totaled 1.8 billion metric tons (MtCO2) in 2021. The transportation sector is now the biggest direct source of GHG emissions in the U.S., having replaced the power sector in 2016.

Impacts of COVID-19 on transportation emissions

U.S. transportation sector emissions increased by 10.5 percent in 2021, having plummeted 15 percent the year before due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Transportation-related CO2 emissions decreased dramatically in the first months of the outbreak due to strict lockdowns, falling 34 percent in April 2020, relative to April 2019. Monthly transportation emissions remained far lower than normal throughout the rest of the year and only returned to pre-pandemic levels in November 2021.

Emissions from passenger cars – the largest source of U.S. transportation emissions - were significantly affected by the pandemic in 2020, plummeting nearly 20 percent compared with the previous year to 618 MtCO2e. However, domestic commercial aircrafts experienced the largest percentage reduction, at 32 percent.

Which states have the highest transportation emissions?

The U.S. states with the highest transportation emissions are Texas and California. California was once the biggest polluter but was surpassed by Texas in 2013. Since 1990, transportation emissions in Texas have increased by 50 percent and account for 33 percent of the state's total emissions. In comparison, vehicle emissions account for 60 percent of emissions in California. As of 2019, transportation was responsible for more than 50 percent of CO2 emissions in more than 10 states.

Cutting transportation emissions

Reducing transportation emissions will be key to tackling climate change. Some of the ways the U.S. aims to reduce carbon pollution from the transportation sector include investing in the electric vehicle charging infrastructure and improving train networks. States could also be rewarded for cutting emissions. Heavy-duty vehicles have already been targeted by the EPA’s Clean Truck Plan ̶ a series of regulations that aims to slash GHG emissions and air pollution.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 28 most important statistics relating to "Transportation emissions in the U.S.".

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