Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Helps Tell the Climate Story

May 22, 2024
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A map showing the location of direct carbon dioxide-emitting facilities across the United States. Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Reporter’s Toolbox: Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Helps Tell the Climate Story

By Joseph A. Davis

The 2024 Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks is recently out. Doomscrolling data freaks are in heaven.

The Toolbox is always excited about data journalism. But this data is too heavy for the sort of raw database crunching that most computer explorers love. What it does, though, is give us the best facts available about the contribution of the United States to global heating. In excruciating detail.

There’s a smart-aleck T-shirt slogan that says: “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” That’s what you get from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s annual GHG inventory. It’s essential to any informed discussion of how the United States is confronting climate — and how it is complying with the Paris Agreement.

Here’s the inventory “About” page, along with a news release and the report itself.


Where the data comes from

The inventory is not all “data.” That is, it is not all actual measurements. Much of it is actually estimates and deductions, but they are the best available and fully documented and explained.

Under the terms of the 2015 Paris climate accords, the data fulfills the requirement that each nation disclose its climate impacts.

Some of the bigger companies are legally required to submit GHG emissions data by law and under an EPA rule. These activities are called the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. The GHGRP alone includes some 41 categories of emitters.

But that does not include important emitters like agriculture, much less GHG sinks. Those and other data are included in the GHG inventory.

The latest inventory is dated 2024 (it was released in April). It covers data from 1990 to 2022.


How to use the data smartly

You should know that there is a search engine for this data, called the Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Explorer.


You can use it to find major emitters in

your state or in a certain industrial category.

You can use it to examine trends over time

or create custom charts or maps.


You can use it to find major emitters in your state or in a certain industrial category. You can use it to examine trends over time or create custom charts or maps.

You can also download raw data directly, but be warned, there is a whole lot of it. The explorer can help you download more manageable subsets of the whole universe.

Some environmental journalists write about climate all the time — often focusing on what consumers can do or who the climate is hurting.

The GHG inventory is a useful lens for looking at the root causes of climate heating. It illuminates major GHG sources ranging from landfill methane to coal electric plants. It sheds light on big industrial polluters like iron and steel production, cement production, ammonia production or incinerators. It’s a window on overlooked but important greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide.

We fear, however, that one of its shortcomings is that it does not adequately account for emissions from wildfire, which can be large and complex.

Finally, environmental journalists in the United States, or writing for U.S. audiences, should remember that there are, in actuality, a whole lot of emissions coming from elsewhere in the world — whether they come from coal plants in China or wildfires in Siberia. Data sources for that will have to wait for another edition of Toolbox.

[Editor’s Note: For more on climate change from SEJournal and SEJ Publications, check out our Climate Change Topic on the Beat page, and our special reports on Covering Climate Solutions and on covering your climate in the South and the Pacific Northwest, as well as our Climate Change Resource Guide.]

Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet, Reporter's Toolbox and Issue Backgrounder, and curates SEJ's weekday news headlines service EJToday and @EJTodayNews. Davis also directs SEJ's Freedom of Information Project and writes the WatchDog opinion column.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 9, No. 21. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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