New EPA Regulation To Cut Emissions From Coal-Fired Plants In USThe US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just released its US Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report for the time period of 1990-2013. In this report the EPA tracks total annual US emissions and removals by source, economic sector, as well as greenhouse gas using national energy data, data on national agricultural activities, et alia in order to comprehensively account for all anthropogenic US greenhouse gas emissions.

The results from 1013 are one of the key findings from the 1990-2013 US Inventory that will likely make climate change activists take special notice ahead of COP 21 in Paris at the end of the year. After two years of declining emissions – which started in 2010 – US greenhouse gas emissions totaled “6,673 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents” (i.e. emission values presented in CO2 equivalent mass units using IPCC AR4 GWP values) in 2013 vis-à-vis 2012.

US emissions rose by 2.0 percent during this time period marking an unpleasant trend reversal. According to the EPA, this trend can be attributed to “increased emissions from electricity generation, an increase in miles traveled by on-road vehicles, an increase in industrial production and emissions in multiple sectors, and year-to-year changes in the prevailing weather.” In short, the factors represent a US economy picking up steam after the 2008/2009 trough, steadily decreasing coal prices and an unseasonably cold winter. While the greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 were 9 percent below 2005 levels, they were still 5.9 percent above 1990 levels. This shows the significance of choosing a baseline year.

roman ghg em1

Source: EPA

The next chart illustrates why the main focus is on significantly curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

roman ghg em2

Source: EPA

Moreover, all the above raises an interesting question – whether the Obama administration’s action plan to fight climate change with its ‘Clean Power Plan’ proposed rule – i.e. carbon pollution standards for existing power plants – and, importantly, the US-China ‘climate protection pact’ from November 2014 with the historic joint announcement on climate change can both revert the US back to a downward trajectory with respect to total GHG emissions. In general, a prudent expansion of renewable energy sources as well as continued reliance on US nuclear power will be indispensable.

However, a new report providing an overview of projected greenhouse gas emissions in 13 major emitting countries/regions (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and the US) up to 2030 finds that “Brazil, China, the EU, India, Japan and the Russian Federation are likely to achieve their pledges through existing policies. Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea and the United States require additional measures to achieve their 2020 pledges.” All aforementioned countries represented about 65 percent of global GHG emissions in 2010. With respect to the US the report further notes that the US could achieve its pledge “if planned policies are effectively implemented.”

This report prepared by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Ecofys, New Climate Institute, and IIASA takes into account the emission trajectories based on current and planned climate policies, and a selection of enhanced mitigation policies up to 2030 (read entire PBL Policy Brief here) and, notably, concludes:

“In all the countries/regions considered, significant further reductions are possible through a selection of policy enhancement measures that are in line with national priorities. By replicating ‘best-in-class’ policies or progressing to identified benchmarks, it is possible to significantly enhance current efforts so that all countries/regions considered here would achieve or overachieve their pledges by 2020. (…) Even though current and planned policies are projected to have an effect on emissions, increases would still occur in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey until 2030, due to their projected high economic growth. Emissions in Brazil, Canada, South Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States would remain stable approximately at current levels. In Japan and the EU, emissions are projected to decrease further under current policies.”

Obviously, a high degree of uncertainty is inherent in future estimates. The PBL graphic below bears this out and shows the impact of climate policies on greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

roman ghg em3 Source: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency et alia. 

It also affirms that the US can indeed – under certain conditions – resume its downward trajectory with respect to total GHG emissions making the 2013 US GHG emissions spike a one-off. In this context, the report has interesting things to say about the US situation: “Current policies in the United States are likely not yet sufficient to reduce emissions as pledged to the UNFCCC. (…) The large range is caused by the uncertainty about whether the planned policies will be implemented. Recent US policy assessments show that emissions could stabilise or even increase between 2010 and 2020. Full implementation of all additional planned policies covered by the Climate Action Plan is expected to reduce emissions close to the level needed to achieve the pledge by 2020, depending on how land-use-related emissions are accounted for.”

For more details, please go to the entire PBL report and check out the results per country – for both current and planned policies, and emission projections under an enhanced bottom-up policy and top-down implementation scenario.