Global warming poses a serious threat to Oregon’s future well-being and prosperity. To avoid the worst impacts of global warming, Oregon should reduce its global warming pollution at least 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow.
Fortunately, many technologies and policy tools exist that could substantially reduce Oregon’s contribution to global warming, while moving the state toward a clean, secure energy future. Oregon has already taken several major steps to cut its global warming pollution, but opportunities to further reduce emissions remain.
This report summarizes the state of the science and the necessary scope of pollution reductions. It then provides a progress report on Oregon’s work to reduce global warming pollution by detailing the expected pollution reductions from policies that Oregon has already adopted, and, finally, identifies six additional policies that would enable Oregon to meet its pollution reduction goals for 2020.
Global warming is happening now and poses a serious threat to Oregon’s future. Global average temperatures increased by more than 1.4° F in the past century. Sea level is rising, ice and snow cover are decreasing, and storm intensity has increased. Scientists have tied this warming to human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide, a pollutant that traps radiation from the sun near the earth’s surface. Since 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 35 percent, reaching the highest level of the last 650,000 years.
The current warming has already affected the Earth’s climate. Sea level has been rising, storms are becoming more severe, and spring events have been occurring earlier in the year. In Oregon, scientists have linked global warming to shrinking glaciers and declining spring snowpack, a primary source of river water that supplies communities with drinking water and farmers with irrigation. Oregon has also experienced more frequent and severe forest fires.
Scientists estimate that world average temperatures could increase by another 3 to 7° F above late 20th century levels by the end of this century, depending on future emissions of global warming pollutants. Sea level could rise by between 11 and 17 inches, and possibly more, threatening low-lying coastal areas. Rising temperatures and shifting patterns of precipitation could disrupt the ecological balance upon which life depends. In Oregon, higher temperatures would increase wintertime flooding and erosion, further reduce snowpack, increase forest fires, and threaten salmon survival.
Emissions of global warming pollution rose in Oregon until at least 2005. Between 1990 and 2005, Oregon’s emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use increased by 23 percent. Electricity consumption and transportation are the biggest sources of carbon dioxide pollution in the state (with a 41 percent and 40 percent share, respectively), followed by the direct use of fossil fuels in industry (11 percent), homes (5 percent) and businesses (3 percent).
Immediate action is needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming. Scientists have projected that if we act quickly and aggressively to reduce global warming pollution there is a much greater chance of staving off the worst impacts of global warming. A survey of numerous studies shows that to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2.0° C (3.6° F), the world will need to halt the growth of global warming pollution by 2015 at the latest, begin reducing emissions immediately thereafter, and slash emissions by 50 percent to 85 percent by 2050. Because the United States is the world’s largest global warming polluter, the degree of emission reductions required here will be greater than in less-developed countries and must be at the high end of this range.
Oregon has set appropriate science-based goals for reducing global warming pollution. In 2007, the Oregon Legislature adopted Governor Ted Kulongoski’s goals of arresting growth in global warming pollution by 2010, reducing pollution to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and cutting pollution 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Oregon’s goals translate to a 27 percent reduction in 2020 from 2005 emission levels and an 80 percent reduction in 2050 from 2005 emission levels. Assuming that Oregon makes steady progress in reducing emissions from 2020 to 2050, the state would need to cut emissions by 44 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. This puts Oregon among the few states that have set goals consistent with the scale of action scientists have determined will be necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming.
If Oregon had not already begun to take steps to reduce pollution, the state would be on a path toward significant increases in global warming pollution. Absent decisive policy action, Oregon’s emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use would increase 17 percent over 2005 levels by 2020 and 41 percent by 2030, with increases in emissions from electricity consumption responsible for the bulk of emissions growth.
By adopting several significant policies, Oregon already has changed its emissions path. The following recently enacted policies mean the state is on pace to meet its 2010 goal of arresting growth in pollution, and is more than halfway toward its 2020 goal of reducing pollution by 27 percent from 2005 levels.
Oregon has adopted several other policies that reduce vehicle travel, including its landmark land use planning program that limits sprawling, auto-dependent development and a program that requires major employers to reduce single-occupant driving to work by promoting carpools, transit, telecommuting and other options. The Portland metropolitan area has gone further, effectively implementing land use planning programs, investing in transit and making the city friendlier to cyclists. These policies provide additional emission reductions not quantified in this report.
The first step Oregon should take in order to meet its goals is to adopt a mandatory cap on global warming pollution that will commit the state to reducing pollution by 27 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2005 levels in 2050. Furthermore, Oregon should adopt a program to meet the cap, such as the cap-and-trade system being developed within the Western Climate Initiative. A strong cap will help to drive pollution reductions from all categories of energy use and will ensure that reductions in one sector are not offset by increased emissions elsewhere.
The six policy strategies identified below can allow the state to exceed its goal of reducing pollution 27 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. By 2030, the policies should enable it to achieve 88 percent of its targeted pollution reduction, leaving emissions 18 percent above the target for that year. These savings are possible if adopted in conjunction with a mandatory cap and the policies Oregon already has in place.
Oregon should adopt policies that will ensure the state reduces global warming pollution to the extent scientists estimate is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Already, the state has established a goal of reducing emissions by 27 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. However, the legislation that confirmed those goals did not establish clear mechanisms that would accomplish these targets. To ensure that Oregon achieves these targeted reductions, the state should: