Sectors

Thinking in Sectors

Policy options to reduce emissions, remove emissions, and adapt to the effects of climate change are often thought of in terms of sectors of the economy. Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes a greenhouse gas inventory that breaks emissions into Transportation, Electricity, Industry, Agriculture and Forestry, and Commercial and Residential Buildings.

The technologies, approaches, and policies we need to address climate pollution from the transportation system are likely to vary significantly from those we need for heavy manufacturing. But some policy mechanisms may cut across multiple sectors, or even the entire economy. Using the pages below, we invite users to explore the different characteristics and challenges of key sectors, as well as the policies that may be most relevant for tackling climate change in each.

U.S. GHG Emissions (2018)

million metric tons of CO2-equivalent
  • Transportation
  • Electricity
  • Industry
  • Agriculture & Forestry
  • Commercial & Residential

Sectoral Overviews

Electricity Sector

In the United States, electricity is the sector with the second highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, emitting 27 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. In addition to being a major source of emissions that need to be reduced, analysis of economy-wide deep decarbonization indicates that a key pathway to economy-wide deep decarbonization likely involves decarbonizing electricity and electrifying other sectors so they can use that decarbonized electricity.

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Transportation Sector

In the United States, transportation is the sector with the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, emitting 28 percent of U.S. GHG emissions. It attained this distinction in 2016, when it edged out electricity for the first time as electric sector GHG emissions declined.

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Industrial Sector

The industrial sector is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 22% of emissions in 2017.[1] The sector encompasses a range of different industries, including construction, mining, refining, and manufacturing, where manufacturing includes the production of cement, steel, aluminum, paper, glass, and chemicals.

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Agriculture and Forestry Sector

Agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions, primarily in the form of methane emissions from livestock (such as cows) and rice production and in the form of nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils.

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Residential and Commercial Sector

In the United States, the residential and commercial sector is the sector with the fourth highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, emitting 12 percent of U.S. GHG emissions.    By convention it includes onsite GHG emissions only – from onsite or “direct” fuel combustion (mostly for space heating, hot water heating and cooking) as well as leaks of compounds used in refrigeration and air conditioning.

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Cross-Cutting

This “Cross-cutting” section of the Guide provides a window into policies that cut across economic sectors.  Climate policies can be specific to one sector of the economy, apply broadly to multiple sectors, address a particular problem that cuts across multiple sectors, or encompass the entire economy.

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