Science & Environment

Oregon needs to cut more greenhouse gas emissions to reach climate goals, panel says

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
April 14, 2023 8:28 p.m.

Oregon fell short in meeting its 2020 climate benchmarks by 13% and will also miss its 2021 reduction target by 19%, according to preliminary data.

Despite Oregon’s ambitious climate policies and programs to reduce nearly all the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a new report says the state has yet to reach any benchmarks and needs to cut emissions faster to meet those goals.

The Oregon Global Warming Commission recently released two reports that provide recommendations to state agencies and lawmakers on how to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of those include continuing existing climate policies, using the best available science to keep track of emissions, and requiring agencies to report on their climate progress.


The commission, which was implemented in 2007 and includes 25 members — 11 of which are voting members designated by the governor — also recommended moving up previous benchmarks outlined in a 2020 executive order that first established the climate goals.

The reports, a biennial update to lawmakers and a roadmap on how to reduce emissions by 2030, revealed Oregon fell short in meeting its 2020 climate benchmarks by 13%, even as the coronavirus pandemic halted much of the world. The state will also miss its 2021 reduction target by 19%, according to preliminary data, moving further from its goals.

Catherine Macdonald, the commission’s chair, said it’s unfortunate Oregon missed its 2020 mark, but a lot of work has been done to get the state back on track, something she believes could happen in the coming years. She said modeling shows Oregon can cut emissions faster and meet its 2035 target five years earlier than planned. That’s because of recently implemented policies like the state’s Climate Protection Program, which caps emissions from fossil fuel suppliers, and House Bill 2021, which requires electric utilities to provide 100% clean energy by 2040.

“The crisis we’re facing on climate change really requires that urgency and moving the goals up in line with the best available science,” she said. “It is important to send that signal that this is an all hands on deck moment.”

For years, top scientists from around the world have been raising alarms on the effects of burning fossil fuels and calling for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb the worst effects of climate change. If those emissions are not drastically reduced by 2050, the world could see catastrophic climate disruptions by 2100. In Oregon, the effects of climate change have already altered the state’s average temperature resulting in longer and more intense wildfire seasons, drought and an extreme heat event that killed dozens in 2021 — all linked by scientists to climate change. And those effects are being felt most intensely by low-income communities and communities of color.

FILE - Traffic moves along Highway 26 heading into Portland, Ore., on Dec. 16, 2016.

FILE - Traffic moves along Highway 26 heading into Portland, Ore., on Dec. 16, 2016.

Don Ryan / AP

According to the reports, without significant reductions in carbon emissions, Oregon’s annual temperature is projected to increase by 5 degrees Fahrenheit in about 30 years and 8.2 degrees Fahrenheit in about 60 years.


The transportation sector remains the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, accounting for 35% of the state’s overall emissions. That’s followed by the residential and commercial sector which accounts for nearly 34% of the state’s overall emissions, according to the state department of environmental quality data.

In 2019, the transportation sector accounted for 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That dropped to 20 million metric tons in 2020 but bounced back to 22 million metric tons in 2021, according to the state report.

Oregon recently has seen more state policies to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. The state is ranked second in the nation for new electric vehicles sold, and has been investing millions toward increasing electric vehicle charges statewide. It’s also passed rules that will ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.

To make sure the state is on track to reduce emissions, Macdonald said it’s important that current policies, like those around transportation, have adequate resources and staffing available to ensure they are running as they should. She said with those programs in place, paired along with the recommendations from the report to reduce emissions from other sectors, modeling shows a consistent decline in emissions that ensure the state can meet the recommended targets.

But if the programs and policies are delayed, Macdonald said the outlook would turn grim.

“It would absolutely have an impact on our ability to meet the goals that we’ve laid out,” she said. “That was why we put as our first recommendation that the programs that are enacted and in place now need to be fully implemented as planned.”

Oregon Environmental Council’s climate program director Nora Apter said since 2020 the state has improved its climate policies and those take time to implement. Apter, who is also a voting member on the commission, said missing the 2020 emissions mark is telling.

“Anyone living in Oregon is all too aware that the climate crisis is here,” she said. “It’s not only at our doorstep. It has come inside… . And the clock is ticking.”

Apter said despite having less than a decade to effectively recover from missing the state’s previous goals, Oregon has an opportunity to leverage the billions of dollars available for federal funding to address climate change through reduced emissions.

In the current legislative session, there are several bills that could draw upon the funds made available from the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Those include policies for energy efficient retrofits of housing, improving building codes, and creating better ways to manage forest and farmlands for carbon sequestration. Senate Bill 522 would also implement some of the changes set forth by the commission.

“It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed or discouraged based on how far off track we were just a few years ago,” she said. “But recent action only underscores that it is achievable, and the incredible opportunity of federal funding has completely changed the game.”