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Second Annual GHG Inventory Update

Princeton’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) calls for updating the community-wide production-based inventory every year. Long-term trends are difficult to ascertain from year to year. However, updating the inventory annually is important to meet the CAP goals of reducing emissions 50% by 2030, 65% by 2040, and 80% by 2050, from 2010 levels. 

This is the second update since the completion and adoption of the CAP in July 2019. It is also a particularly challenging update in light of the far-reaching implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with many things in 2020, we see significant changes in our emissions inventory. Lock-downs, stay-at-home orders, and many other constraints on daily lives and economic activity resulted in a dramatic global emissions decrease. 

This chart shows observed community production-based emissions in BLUE against the path to meeting reduction goals in GREEN.

Emissions declined in each of the three categories that account for nearly all of Princeton’s production-based emissions: commercial energy, residential energy, and transportation. 2020’s emissions total was 345,444 metric tons CO2 equivalent and 22% lower than 2019’s 442,835 MTCO2e. 

Commercial energy declined significantly, likely due to office closures, and notably, the closure of the University. Based on a recommendation from Sustainable Jersey, we have included an estimated decrease in 2020’s vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20% to reflect pandemic-related behavior. However, it may take several years to understand the pandemic’s impact on VMT fully.

The decrease in residential energy may be attributed to the mild winter months with above-average temperatures, and particularly autumn, which ranked among the warmest on record.

As we are hopefully emerging from the system-wide stress of the pandemic, we are equally hopeful that we seize the opportunity to return to life-as-usual without bringing our business-as-usual emissions with us. For more national context for the pandemic’s impact on emissions and economic activity, see this report from Rhodium Group.

Princeton follows the U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Version 1.1, July 2013, developed by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA. Learn more about the inventory and data sources in Appendix B of the Princeton Climate Action Plan.