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Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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. Learn more about FTA's Climate Change Adaptation Initiative. For research on transit and climate change, tools for measuring and reducing carbon footprints, and information on transportation-related climate change adaptation, see below.


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. 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

  • FTA Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transit Projects: Programmatic Assessment. This programmatic assessment serves to report on whether certain types of proposed transit projects merit detailed analysis of their GHG emissions at the project level and to provide a source of data and analysis for FTA and its grantees to reference in future environmental documents for projects in which detailed, project-level GHG analysis would provide only limited information beyond what is collected and considered in this programmatic analysis. An estimator tool and accompanying user guide are also available.
  • Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change. 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. 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. Responding to a 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.


Emissions Savings from Transit

Transportation Sector-wide Analysis

Emissions Savings from TOD and Land Use Strategies

Transportation Planning and Climate Change

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.


Additional Resources

Personal Carbon Calculator

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

Updated: Tuesday, January 24, 2017
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