26 January 2012

US Emissions Projections Compared to Reduction Targets

Last week the US Energy Information Agency published an "early release" of its 2012 Annual Energy Outlook, which includes the agency's projections for various energy statistics out to 2030, based on a range of assumptions. The report also includes projections of carbon dioxide emissions to 2035, which allows for a comparison of the Obama Administration's commitments to targets for emissions reduction for 2020, 2025 and 2030 (the formal commitment made under the UN FCCC is here).

The graph at the top of this post shows the U.S. government's emissions projections (black line) and the emissions reduction targets (red, blue and green). In case you were wondering how big the misses are with respect to the targets in some sort of intuitive way, I've provided a measure of the magnitude of the shortfall (using the same methods described in depth in The Climate Fix) in terms of the number of coal power plants that would have to be replaced with nuclear power plants to meet the targets. (If you'd like to replace gas power plants, the numbers are about 40% more, due to the lower carbon intensity of gas generation. If you'd like to use wind turbines or solar power, well, get out a big calculator;-).

It should be fairly obvious that under the assumptions of the EIA (such as positive economic growth) that the emissions reduction targets are not going to be met. Given President Obama's renewed commitment to an "all of the above" strategy for energy production in the United States, is it finally time to dismiss the charade of emissions reductions targets and adopt a different approach?


  1. Have you ever seen or done a CO2 emissions calculation of switching coal to natural gas? I'm not even sure this political viable given all the vested interests around coal mining. Maybe we could become a coal exporter.

  2. so what's your approach again? your so called climate fix?

  3. -1-Mike McHenry

    Thanks for asking -- p. 101 in TCF ;-) There I calculate that the US 2020 emissions would be 16% less than a 2005 baseline with all (2008) coal converted to gas generation.

  4. -2-John

    Thanks ... You can find it in a book by that title, have a look and let me know if you have any questions ;-)

  5. -3 Roger
    I'm reading TCF on Kindle-no page #'s. What chapter is it?

  6. -5-Mike McHenry

    Chapter 4, 20 pages in, 15 from the end, in the section on US emissions ... thanks!

  7. Off topic -

    But I thought you might find this interesting, Roger.


  8. Natural gas if fraucked creates more c02 than coal from wells leaking methane.

    Plus natural gas is only a short-term option.

  9. #8 Unknown:
    Do you have citations for your two empirical assertions?

  10. Roger,

    We could also just 'assume' a population that willingly elects to not consume power by 2035-- that way if the US misses the targets, it's THEIR fault.

  11. The EIA has coal consumption trending downward until 2015 then rising annually there after.

    When I look at the South Atlantic sub tab the EIA has the amount of coal consumed to produce electricity in the South Atlantic region rising just when the nuclear plants under construction in the South Atlantic are scheduled to begin coming on line.

    I don't find the EIA projections for coal consumption past 2015 plausable.

  12. Plus natural gas is only a short-term option.

    Well, compared to coal or nuclear, I suppose.

    The rest of us will be happy with "only" a hundred years or so at current rates of use and discovery.


  13. A corollary to your iron law of climate policy should be: Politicians will always set emission targets far enough in the future that they won't be held accountable.

  14. Roger; From your neck of the woods, the Boulder council said that meeting Kytoto is not quite as easy they thought it would be.


    This is an understatement, as they are currently 25% over 1990 levels, and 34.5% over the target of a 7% reduction on 1990 levels. (assuming the first commenters numbers are correct).

    These numbers are very similar to the Canadian numbers, and IIRC, is way above the US average emissions increase.

    Iron Law, meet Boulder City Council.

  15. There is an article in NATURE today titled "Warning not so much". It has a link to the original paper
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL050226 at Geophysical Research Letters. This is the second paper in a month pegging warming to the low end of the range. Adaption and some modest de-carbonizing may be all we need anyway.