Understanding overall trends in three broad areas – energy used in transportation, energy used in buildings, and land and forest management – illustrates the challenges and opportunities to moving the region towards longer-term emissions reduction goals.

Transportation is responsible for 42% of regional emissions

The primary driver of transportation emissions is the combustion of gasoline and diesel fuel by cars and trucks. Transportation emissions have declined slightly in the past few years (due in part to the economic downturn), but remain the most challenging to address and least impacted by policies to date.

Building energy use accounts for 40% of regional emissions

Within the buildings sector, a major source of emissions is fossil-fuel-generated electricity, which is used for lighting, electronics and other appliances. Consumer use of electronics and appliances has increased, partially offsetting energy efficiency improvements.  Heating and cooling needs account for much of the rest of building energy use and emissions, and there is potential to substantially reduce those emissions through efficiency, weatherization, and switching to cleaner heating fuels.

The region’s forests may act as a carbon sink – or as an emissions source

Undisturbed, forests remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, and thus help offset emissions from other sources. Land use patterns and urban sprawl have reduced forest acreage in the Northeast, threatening the potential for forests to continue to offset emissions across the region.