Dispensing with Nonsense on New CO2 Rules

June 6, 2014


(Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it will set an absolute cap on its CO2 emissions from 2016 just a day after the United States announced new targets for its power sector, signalling a potential breakthrough in tough U.N. climate talks.

Progress in global climate negotiations has often been held back by a deep split between rich and poor nations, led by the United States and China, respectively, over who should step up their game to reduce emissions. But the fact that the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases made unprecedented announcements on climate within 24 hours of each other sparked optimism among observers hoping to see the decades-old deadlock broken. The steps come ahead of a global meet on climate change starting on Wednesday in Germany.

China, the world’s biggest emitter, will set a total cap on its CO2 emissions when its next five-year plan comes into force in 2016, He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing.

Carbon emissions in the coal-reliant economy are likely to continue to grow until 2030, but setting an absolute cap instead of pegging them to the level of economic growth means they will be more tightly regulated and not spiral out of control.

“The Chinese announcement marks potentially the most important turning point in the global scene on climate change for a decade,” said Michael Grubb, a professor of international energy and climate policy at University College London.

Paul Krugman:

That leaves China, and there have been many cynical declarations over the past few days to the effect that China will just go ahead and burn any coal that we don’t. And we certainly don’t want to count on Chinese altruism.

But we don’t have to. China is enormously dependent on access to advanced-country markets — a lot of the coal it burns can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to its export business — and it knows that it would put this access at risk if it refused to play any role in protecting the planet.

More specifically, if and when wealthy countries take serious action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, they’re very likely to start imposing “carbon tariffs” on goods imported from countries that aren’t taking similar action. Such tariffs should be legal under existing trade rules — the World Trade Organization would probably declare that carbon limits are effectively a tax on consumers, which can be levied on imports as well as domestic production. Furthermore, trade rules give special consideration to environmental protection. So China would find itself with strong incentives to start limiting emissions.

The new carbon policy, then, is supposed to be the beginning, not the end, a domino that, once pushed over, should start a chain reaction that leads, finally, to global steps to limit climate change. Do we know that it will work? Of course not. But it’s vital that we try.

Business Green:

Doubling green energy to meet 36 per cent of global energy demand by 2030 would save the world $740bn a year in costs associated with fossil fuel pollution, according to new research.

The report launched by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says such a goal is not only possible and affordable but will also keep the world on track to limit global temperature increase to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Reaching 36 per cent of global energy consumption with renewables would reduce the global demand for oil and gas by around 15 per cent and coal by 26 per cent, the Remap 2030 report finds. It adds that doing so would not only create a net gain of nearly one million jobs by 2030, but also cut energy-related pollution and adverse health effects, as well as increasing energy security for countries dependent on energy imports.

“Our data shows that renewable energy can help avert catastrophic climate change and save the world money, if all costs are considered,” said Adnan Z Amin, director-general of IRENA, at the launch of the report in New York. “The transition is affordable based on existing technologies, and that the benefits go well beyond the positive climate impact.”

However, the report notes the world is unlikely to reach this goal unlessgovernments act now to “step up” their efforts by planning realistic but ambitious transition pathways; creating enabling business environments; managing knowledge of technology options and their deployment; ensuring smooth integration of renewables into the existing infrastructure; and unleashing innovation.

Jonathan Chait critiques the US Chamber of Commerce’ response to new Co2 rules – in New York Magazine:

The Chamber study employs a couple easily spotted gimmicks. It assumes demand for electricity, which has grown 0.7 percent a year since 2000, and which the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects to grow at 0.9 percent a year through 2040, will grow at a 1.4 percent annual rate. That assumption would make any reduction all the more expensive to achieve.

Second, it measures a far more ambitious plan than the administration is likely to propose. The administration has said it plans to hit the target it agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen talks: a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses from the 2005 level. This is a doable target. So instead the Chamber measures a much stricter target: a 42 percent reduction by 2030.

It is true that the administration has endorsed this other long-term goal as well. But the plan due to come out Monday is almost certainly not going to attempt to achieve it. The focus is on 2020 levels, which are the basis for the next round of international climate negotiations. The Chamber explains this decision with mock judiciousness: “The 42% emissions reduction figure was chosen because, to date, it remains the only publicly announced Administration GHG reduction goal for 2030.” That’s true! But to measure a plan that’s designed to meet 2020 targets, you don’t need to look at 2030 targets at all.

The reason the study uses this trick becomes clear when you look at how its projected costs break down. The costs through 2020, represented by the bar on the left, are really low. It’s only in the years after 2020 — when the study starts adding up costs for much stricter limits than Obama is actually going to propose — that the numbers start to pile up:

The longer-term measure is not just harder to achieve, it’s harder to measure. Higher standards drive better technological changes from the private sector. Attempting to measure the cost of meeting higher standards two decades down the road with only currently available technology is guesswork. “A model today can only accommodate technology available today, not technology that is just around the corner,” says Dallas Burtraw, an economist at RFF, “Hence I feel forecasts that run a decade out are useful, but decreasingly so beyond that point.”

Even so, while the study uses lots of impressive adjectives to describe the size of the cost it predicts, the numbers are pretty meager. It predicts the regulations will increase electricity costs by $17 billion a year. Scared? Keep in mind electricity costs about $350 billion a year, which would mean the Chamber is predicting a one-time hike in electricity bills on the order of 5 percent a year. For the average American, that’s about $100 a year in his electric bill.

Even the Chamber’s unrealistically dire number is still low enough that most people would barely notice it. (For perspective, a poll found that the average American would spend $162 a year for cleaner energy.) Adele Morris, a Brookings Institute climate economist, told me, “If they were going to make up numbers, I’d assume they’d have made up bigger ones.”



33 Responses to “Dispensing with Nonsense on New CO2 Rules”

  1. Right on, Peter. These actions are just the beginning. It’s like the prodigal confessing. We might consider them in context,

    “First, the scale and required rate of change in emissions appears unlikely to be driven by a single policy instrument ”

    “a large proportion of the decarbonisation will need to be accomplished with the technologies we now have either already at scale, or with the potential to grow to very large scale within (at most) a few decades.”

    “Third, no one body or level of institution is likely to be able to drive the necessary change alone.”


  2. jimbills Says:

    On the positive side, actions from one country, especially superpowers, can lead to actions from other countries. Hopefully the EPA regs will lead to further action both here and elsewhere.

    But I’ve also read that Jiankun’s statements are not official Chinese policy. He Jiankun would be something like a green think tank leader in the States. His words are meant as suggestion. Andrew Revkin spells it out here:

  3. Duane Nash Says:

    I would like to call an “air strike” on the blog climate change dispatch (you will see my comments under a different name there). Seems like I am the only person over on this denier blog fighting the misinformation promulgated there. As several have stated this IS a war. Deniers have no problem waging their war of misinformation anywhere. It is time science aggressively takes the fight to them on their own turf.


    • Don’t post links to these shitty denier pages as every link added will uprate them for google searches. Preferably dont mention them by their full names, for example you can write WTFUWT to indicate a certain blog.

  4. rayduray Says:

    They say “the devil is in the detail”. And boy howdy, there’s a ton of detail in the White House/EPA 675 page proposed “Climate Action Plan” changes to our CO2 planning.

    And there are some doozies, folks. Like the fact that theoretically, Kentucky and West Virginia could mine, ship and burn more coal in 2030 and still conform to Obama’s 30% CO2 emissions reduction regime. Yes, you read that right. We can increase CO2 emissions from the most coal-consumptive states, and declare it a reduction. George Orwell would love this, donchathink?

    Here’s more: http://americablog.com/2014/06/obama-plan-reduce-carbon-emissions-allows-coal-heavy-states-increase-emissions.html

    Oh, and as someone living out West, I’m particularly amazed that Washington State has been told to reduce its already low CO2 emissions by 70%, Oregon by 48% while Kentucky and West Virginia are told that 20% is all they could possibly be requested to lower their emission by. Who writes this stuff? Have the writing teams at the Onion, the DailY Show and the Colbert Report been hired away by the White House?

    Frankly, I don’t see how anyone can take this EPA smörgåsbord as anything other than a joke being played on the American public.

    Another galling footnote for Westerners. As you are probably aware, the once crystalline atmosphere over the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, and much of the Four Corners region has been really debased over the past few decades by the imposition of the Four Corner Navajo Coal Generation Station http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Corners_Generating_Station

    This is a serious source of air pollution. Guess what, kiddies? It’s exempted from any control by the EPA. It’s on “territorial” land, and thereby exempt from regulation. Hallelujah.

    What I see of the EPA’s Monday plan is enough to make me believe we are racing backwards as fast as possible from ANY sensible approach to climate change, sea level rise, ocean acidification and CO2 controls. Forward into the past! CHARGE!

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Ray – the people that put these rules together know what they are up against in the congress. They also are aware of the changes that are taking place, technologically and economically, that are already pushing us down the road we need to go.
      The goal here is to provide, not the whole answer, but an additional push to forces already in play.
      You’ve decided to play the part of dissatisfied lefty – fine. That works to give the administration further cover in saying “See? – we’re the moderates here.”
      Meantime, the momentum for paradigm shift in the electrical sector is as irreversible as Antarctic melt. What we hope is that we can help it along and speed it up.

      • If you want to help it along and speed it up, you can make states responsible for the power they CONSUME, not the power they GENERATE.  For instance, if Ontario re-commissioned a coal-burner to trans-ship power to Maine and Vermont, the latter could still claim to have zero carbon emissions despite a massive increase in its electricity imports from shutting down Vermont Yankee (which displaces between 2.5 and 4 million tons of CO2 per year).

      • rayduray Says:

        Re: “You’ve decided to play the part of dissatisfied lefty”

        Huh? I beg to differ. I’m not an actor like so many of our Presidents have been, including the one in office now. I am a dissatisfied lefty. I don’t play one on these threads. 🙂

        As to whether or not Obama is a moderate, I go along with the assessment of the record by these astute UK-based political scientists:


        Re: “The goal here is to provide, not the whole answer, but an additional push to forces already in play.”

        As Gaius Publius at Americablog and as the Onion concluded, the goal really for the Monday announcement was to provide propaganda and posturing to the Presidential pose. What really happened on Monday? First of all, nothing. Everything was predicated on there being EPA regs written something like 16 months from now. And beyond that point, the various states were mandated to come up with plans. Which would the be reviewed by the EPA’s plan reviewers. Putting us out into the 2018 time frame. In the meantime, cleverly slipped into the stipulations of the Monday
        announcement Obama quietly backed off our previous commitments to calculate our CO2 emission referenced on a 1990 base date. This has simply been dumped in favor of a 2005 starting date for calculations. Which was, of course, a year with dramatically more CO2 emissions than 1990 in the US.

        So I simply cannot see how you can claim that Obama is attempting to “provide…. additional push to forces already in play.” No, he’s not. He’s doing the exact opposite. He’s re-calibrating the game for the sake of the polluters. It could not be more plain, once it is made known. As I said yesterday, the devil is in the details. And if nothing else, Obama is a genius at obscurantist drizzles of detail.

        As always, yr humble & ‘bedient servant and YMMV 🙂

        • greenman3610 Says:

          watch and see. Coal is dead. If the regs are executed optimally as written, coal is dead. If the regs are held up in limbo – the uncertainty kills coal dead.
          If the regs push more utilities to get serious about new technology, coal loses.
          If the new regs push China to come forward, coal loses.
          I’ll be posting soon on why moving to a new paradigm is not just something it would be nice to do – it is in fact something about which we have only one choice – the speed at which we change.

          • If coal loses in the USA, I must note the irony:  this is the exact opposite of what happened under the Energiewende.

          • rayduray Says:

            Hi Peter,

            What you say sounds good in theory. Meanwhile, my mayor and a city councilor I know here in town are out counting coal cars on the BNSF line, and proposing to write laws to protect the city. The number of coal cars transiting town are going up dramatically, exponentially in fact. This is coal looking for a tidewater terminal for export.

            You can dream about a coal free tomorrow. I can directly observe and create a record that industry is actively engaging in an entirely different plan.

        • Ray- Of course industry is engaging in a different plan. What did you expect them to do in the land of free enterprise? They are responding to their greatly devalued stock prices and business losses. Coal is on the way down. Notice two industries that have been devalued lately. Coal and autos. Look for oil to follow.

  5. An announcement from China? Great! Our problems are solved 🙂

    A few sobering words from James Hansen (you’ve heard of him, I’m sure):

    People who entreat the government to solve global warming but offer support only for renewable energies will be rewarded with the certainty that the U.S. and most of the world will be fracked-over, the dirtiest fossil fuels will be mined, mountaintop removal and mechanized long-wall coal mining will continue, the Arctic, Amazon and other pristine public lands will be violated, and the deepest oceans will be ploughed for fossil fuels. Politicians are not going to let the lights go out or stop economic growth. Don’t blame Obama or other politicians. If we give them no viable option, we will be fracked and mined to death, and have no one to blame but ourselves.

    and this:

    The asymmetry finally hit me over the head when a renewable energy advocate told me that the main purpose of renewable portfolio standards (RPS) was to “kill nuclear”. I had naively thought that the purpose was simply to kick-start renewables. Instead, I was told, because utilities were required to accept intermittent renewable energies, nuclear power would become less economic, because it works best if it runs flat out. What to do when the wind is not blowing? The answer was: have a gas plant ready as back-up. In other words, replace carbon-free nuclear power with a dual system, renewables plus gas. With this approach CO2 emissions will increase and it is certain that fracking will continue and expand into larger regions.


    Click to access 20140221_DraftOpinion.pdf

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I’ve been a close observer of this for a long time – arguably longer than Hansen, whom I greatly respect. no one has ever told me that ‘the purpose of RPS is to kill nuclear”. all I’m sayin’.

        • Thanks for linking to that video, EP. I need to send a few friends to that link, it would make my life easier when I try to explain why solar/wind is not much good as a base power system. A lot of people don’t get thing about base vs. peak power.

        • jimbills Says:

          The creator of the video is an organization funded by startup money from a Hunter Lovins group:

          So, I do see your “greens want to kill nuclear” stuff here. But energyshouldbe.org is a puny organization:

          They brag that they have 105 newsletter subscriber and 57 Facebook likes in their first full year. It’s basically just two guys doing it. It’d be more helpful for your argument if you linked weightier evidence – although this is evidence, still.

          A question – wouldn’t a baseload generation source like nuclear also require a peaking source that can be rapidly turned on and off? Wouldn’t the best candidate for this still be natural gas?

          I thought the video was missing a point about energy storage, too. I don’t see why a baseload source (like nuclear) can’t remain in place and then excess supply from wind and solar couldn’t be diverted to storage (pumped water, battery, hydrogen, etc.), and then this stored energy couldn’t later be used to augment the peaks instead of natural gas. I know a lot of storage from renewables is still future tech, but it seems really short-sighted to kill all baseload now. It makes a renewable transition many times more difficult, and it keeps the grid completely reliant on NG.

          • They brag that they have 105 newsletter subscriber and 57 Facebook likes in their first full year. It’s basically just two guys doing it.

            Perhaps, but I’ve noticed that their attitude is pervasive; I encounter the same or similar talking points all over.  All they’ve done is make all of the agenda points explicit.

            wouldn’t a baseload generation source like nuclear also require a peaking source that can be rapidly turned on and off?

            It depends how you are handling demand.  The “21st century grid” proclaimed as a necessity for renewables could have nuclear built out to something beyond the base load, and use DSM to allow slower-reacting generators to be turned on only when required instead of keeping them as spinning reserve.

            Wouldn’t the best candidate for this still be natural gas?

            It depends how much gas costs, and how much carbon emissions cost.  My analysis of the issue suggests that nuclear plus storage is the cheapest option because you can rely on surpluses to charge batteries every night.  If you have to store energy for several days of deficits, the size and cost get completely out of hand.

            I thought the video was missing a point about energy storage, too.

            Without storage, any immediate surplus over demand must be dumped.  If you have to overbuild to handle marginal conditions but get nothing from the peaks, very little benefit will come from that cost.  It’s not surprising that people claiming the necessity of killing base-load generation would gloss over that part.

            I don’t see why a baseload source (like nuclear) can’t remain in place and then excess supply from wind and solar couldn’t be diverted to storage (pumped water, battery, hydrogen, etc.), and then this stored energy couldn’t later be used to augment the peaks instead of natural gas.

            Storing electricity to return as electricity later is a fairly expensive and/or lossy proposition, especially in large volume; the big pumped-storage systems I know about are in the range of a few tens of GW-hours, while running the US grid on RE would take TW-days.  It’s relatively cheap to convert electricity to something you’re going to use later (e.g. ice for air conditioning), so you can do DSM that way at much lower cost.

            I believe that the ultimate solution to the climate problem (not just the grid problem) is going to involve carbon-negative elements.  For instance, there’s recently been a suggestion to use lime cement instead of Portland cement in new construction.  Lime cement absorbs CO2 from the air over time, becoming CaCO3.  Short-term surpluses of electricity could drive heaters to calcine the lime (CaCO3 + Δ -> CaO + CO2).  If the CO2 from the calcining process was minerologically absorbed in e.g. olivine, the system as a whole would be carbon-negative.

          • rayduray Says:

            Re: “A question – wouldn’t a baseload generation source like nuclear also require a peaking source that can be rapidly turned on and off? Wouldn’t the best candidate for this still be natural gas?”

            Hydropower is another source of peaking power. For example, the Glen Canyon dam is run with an eye toward summer afternoon releases of water so as to maximize profits by selling power at peak rates.

            Circadian patterns like that apply on a lot of dams in the West.

            I concur though that back east the natural gas turbines are probably the best existing alternative for peaking power.

          • The fact that renewables are a mix of base load and peaking plants is overlooked by renewable detractors. To them, all renewables are variable. Also overlooked, is the fact that base load plants are not dispatchable, that is, they cannot vary quickly to respond to demand. Therefore, they need peaking plants to follow demand changes. Consequently, for the most part, base load does not exceed 20% of peak demand and base load must also have reserves. Some base load can operate with crude load following, but base load economics suffer as a result. Base load and capacity factor are not figures of merit so much as descriptions of a power sources characteristics, i.e. non-dispatchable, high capital cost, low energy cost if operated 24/7, and often, large central plants requiring large reserves for unplanned outages.

  6. “• Renewable energy provided 19% of global final energy consumption in 2012, and continued to grow in 2013”

  7. Peter- does it feel like the title is Renewable Energy Crock of the Week sometimes?
    – New data from German utilities organisation shows brown and black coal generation, gas and nuclear all fell in 1st quarter, as renewables rose.
    – Contrary to widespread belief, CO2 emissions from Germany’s electricity sector did not rise in 2013. They actually fell slightly.
    – New data from German utilities organisation shows brown and black coal generation, gas and nuclear all fell in 1st quarter, as renewables rose.
    Renewable deniers continue spreading myths regardless of how many times they have been contradicted with solidly referenced citations. I did not even know wind alone provides 4.18% of US electric generation.
    For the 12 months through January 2014, the electricity produced from wind power in the United States amounted to 171.02 terawatt-hours, or 4.18% of all generated electrical energy.[3]
    It’s no longer about feasibility or economics. There are no excuses for procrastinating on a renewable future. In truth, there really never were any excuses. We could have developed upwind three bladed wind turbines 40 years ago instead of fighting oil wars. We didn’t because of politics and greed, not economics or means.

  8. rayduray Says:

    Re: “We could have developed upwind three bladed wind turbines 40 years ago instead of fighting oil wars. We didn’t because of politics and greed, not economics or means.”

    I completely agree. The problem with America is that it is totally in love with war. Hippies excepted, of course. 🙂

  9. climatebob Says:

    China is committing to renewable electricity in a big way but they need a vast amount of power to fulfil their growth. Most rivers are already dammed, so hydro is topped out which leaves solar and wind of which they are superb producers.
    I can’t see them buying much American coal as there are vast supplies in Mongolia which are just coming on stream. The world just does not have enough resources to supply humans rampant demands.

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