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Science & Environment

Report: Transportation is Cape’s Main Culprit in Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Cars, trucks, buses and other forms of transportation produced 55 percent of the Cape region’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in recent years, according to the Cape Cod Commission.  

That’s significantly higher than the rest of the state, where in 2016, the most recent year for state-wide data, 43 percent of GHG emissions came from transportation. Another 39 percent of the Cape’s regional GHG emissions came from heating and electricity in homes and businesses. 


At a recent meeting, the Cape Cod Commission began releasing early findings from a greenhouse gas inventory of the region. The long-awaited inventory, which breaks down which sectors are emitting the most and the least across the Cape, can be used to guide climate change mitigation plans. 


“In order to make sure we’re strategic in trying to reduce GHG emissions we have to start by getting a good understanding of the baseline: where are the emissions coming from in the Cape Cod region,” said Steven Tupper, transportation manager with the commission.  


The report includes measurements of roughly how much carbon dioxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and other greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere in 2017.  


The total emissions from Cape Cod in 2017 were 3,572,401 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or about half of how much Boston emitted in the same year. 


Tupper estimated the region’s transportation emissions were proportionally much higher than those in the rest of the state because of what doesn’t happen on the Cape. 


“A lot of the things you’d see in GHG inventories are things that are produced locally,” he said.  “And we end up importing a lot in our region. So we don’t see as much emissions from industrial processes, or product use, or as much in the agricultural sector.” 


The good news, he said, is that as long as transportation dominates the region’s GHG emissions, there’s a clear path for improvement.


“In terms of things that we can certainly influence,” he said, “we factored in and we’re continuing to see a trend towards electric vehicles, and that’s where we can start to get a more efficient vehicle fleet.”


The commission is working on a plan to install more electric vehicle charging stations to encourage a faster transition to electric and hybrid cars, buses, and more. 


“So when we start to be able to put numbers to things, like the benefits of electric vehicles, or the protection of open space, or efficient development patterns,” Tupper said, “then we can continue progress on things we've been working on for decades.” 


The state’s ultimate goal is to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the next 20 years, which would mean that each year Massachusetts would balance emissions produced with emissions taken out of the atmosphere.