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Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

For information on FTA's Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, click here

Public transportation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing a low emissions alternative to driving, facilitating compact development, and minimizing the carbon footprint of its operations. Find research on transit and climate change, tools for measuring and reducing carbon footprints, and information on transportation-related climate change adaptation here.


Learn more background information on the basics of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation, and adaptation as well as definitions of key terms.

FTA Activities

FTA and Climate Change (PDF)
A two page flyer on FTA’s climate change activities.

Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse, maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, offers a one-stop source of information on transportation and climate change issues. Through strategic research, policy analysis, partnerships and outreach, the Center creates comprehensive and multi-modal approaches to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases and to mitigate the effects of global climate change on the transportation network. FTA contributes funding and staff resources to the Center.

FTA Climate Change Adaptation Initiative
FTA has performed a number of workshops and webinars to share information, provide technical assistance, and bring stakeholders together.

FTA Reports

Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change (PDF)
This FTA paper presents an analysis of data from the National Transit Database, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency on transit fuel use, emissions, and ridership. National level data shows significant greenhouse gas emission savings by use of public transportation, which offers a low emissions alternative to driving. The paper also frames the data in a broader context.

Transit Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management Compendium (PDF)
This Compendium provides up-to-date information to transit operators, as well as regional transportation planners and decision–makers, for making informed decisions about specific greenhouse gas reduction actions.

FTA Research Reports on Sustainable Transit: Environment/Energy/Alternative Fuels
Multiple FTA sponsored research reports on transit vehicle energy efficiency and alternative fuel technologies.

Transit Green Building Action Plan - Under request from Congress, FTA produced an analysis of environmentally friendly transit buildings and the actions FTA can take to encourage these practices in the transit industry.


Recommended Practice for Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transit (PDF)
Through FTA’s standards development program, FTA funded the American Public Transportation Association Climate Change Working Group to develop this recommended methodology for measuring the carbon footprint of public transportation agencies, including both emissions produced by transit and reduced by transit through avoided car trips.

Methods to Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transportation Construction/Maintenance/Operations Activities
This spreadsheet tool, called GrennDOT, and the accompanying report allow transportation agencies to calculate agency greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of various mitigation strategies. While geared towards state DOTs, the functionality to calculate construction emissions based on typical materials and equipment also applies to transit agencies.

APTA Guidelines for Climate Action Planning (PDF)

Emissions Savings from Transit

Current Practices in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Savings from Transit
Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Synthesis 84 explores the role of transit agencies in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and examines the current practice of a sample of transit agencies.

The Route to Carbon and Energy Savings: Transit Efficiency in 2030 and 2050 (MS Word)
Funded through TCRP, this report estimates the potential carbon efficiency of transit in 2030 and 2050 if transit agencies take aggressive climate action.

The Broader Connection between Public Transportation, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Reduction (PDF)
Funded through TCRP, this study found a significant correlation between transit availability and reduced automobile travel. Combining transit’s land use effects with emissions savings from mode shift and congestion mitigation, the study estimated that U.S. transit reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 37 million metric tons annually.

Travel Matters: Mitigating Climate Change with Sustainable Surface Transportation (PDF)
TCRP Report 93 reviews the capacity of public transportation to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and provides an interactive website with an emissions calculator and maps.

Transportation Sector-wide Analysis

Transportation’s Role in Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions (PDF)
This U.S. Department of Transportation report to Congress examines greenhouse gas emission levels and trends from the transportation sector and analyzes the full range of strategies available to reduce these emissions. Webinar (PDF) slides are also available.

Moving Cooler: An Analysis of Transportation Strategies for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Moving Cooler analyzes and assesses the effectiveness and costs of almost 50 transportation strategies for reducing GHG emissions, as well as evaluates combinations of those strategies. The study was sponsored by a diverse group of organizations, including the Federal Transit Administration.

Emissions Savings from TOD and land use strategies

TCRP Report 128: Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel (PDF). Transit Cooperative Research Program, 2009.

Driving and the Built Environment: The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions – Special Report 298. Transportation Research Board, 2009.

Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America, National Center for Smart Growth, Center for Clean Air Policy, September 2007.

Shrinking the Carbon Footprint of Metropolitan America. Brookings, 2008.

Transportation Planning and Climate Change

Integrating Climate Change into the Transportation Planning Process, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation, July 2008.

Transportation Planning, Policy and Climate Change: Making the Long Term Connection University Transportation Center for Mobility, Texas A&M University (Research in Progress).

Planners Energy and Climate Change Database. American Planning Association.

Life Cycle Emissions

Life-cycle Environmental Inventory of Passenger Transportation in the United States. University of California – Berkeley researchers Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath estimate the life cycle emissions from public transportation, sedans, SUVs, intercity rail, and air travel. The estimates are of the full life cycle emissions, including vehicle manufacturing, infrastructure construction, fuel extraction and processing, fuel combustion, facility lighting, maintenance, and disposal. A subsequent study by the researchers, Life-cycle Energy and Emissions Inventories for Motorcycles, Diesel Automobiles, School Buses, Electric Buses, Chicago Rail, and New York City, adds additional transit and auto types.


FTA Climate Change Adaptation page

Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation (PDF), FTA, 2011

Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation Transportation Research Board Special Report 290, March 2008

Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: Gulf Coast Study, Phase 1 (PDF) U.S. Climate Change Science Program, March 2008.

Regional Climate Change Effects: Useful Information for Transportation Agencies, Federal Highway Administration, May 2010.

Literature Review: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Assessment and Adaptation Approaches, Federal Highway Administration, July 2009.

Assessing Vulnerability and Risk of Climate Change Effects on Transportation Infrastructure: Pilot of the Conceptual Model, Federal Highway Administration, 2010.

Progress Report of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force: Recommended Actions in Support of a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, The White House Council on Environmental Quality, October 2010.

Additional Resources

A Transportation Research Program for Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change and Conserving Energy – Special Report 299 Transportation Research Board, 2009.

USDOT Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse.

Federal Highway Administration Climate Change Webpage

Federal Highway Administration Climate Change Resources

Transportation Research Board (TRB) Climate Change Webpage

EPA Transportation and Climate Change

EPA Resources for Greenhouse Gas Inventory Development

Personal Carbon Calculator

How much greenhouse gas emissions can you save by switching from driving alone to taking existing public transportation?

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
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