Who Needs Paris: U.S. CO2 Reductions Astonishing Without Paris Agreement

U.S. CO2 Emissions down 14% since 2007 peak, and within 3% of 1990 level

By Bob Clark

While considering President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, it is important to understand U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are steadily declining since peaking in the year 2007 and are approaching the 1990 level, even without this global agreement. The U.S Energy Information Administration provides this estimated data in its monthly report, the Monthly Energy Review.  Here’s a chart of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the Energy Information Administration report, estimated for the years 1973 through last year 2016:

Most fascinating is approximately 61% of the decline in carbon dioxide emissions since the year 2007 is due to the substitution of natural gas fuel for coal in electric power generation.  (Natural gas fired electric power generation is some 40% more efficient than that of coal which uses a century’s old steam boiler technology versus the jet age natural gas combined cycle turbine technology…and the latter keeps getting steadily more efficient.)

A quarter of the decline in CO2 emissions since peak is due to the displacement of coal power by wind power.  Ten percent is due to a decrease in electric energy consumption, which I coin as electric energy use efficiency improvements.  Finally, five percent is due to the displacement of coal power by solar power. (derived from Monthly Energy Report tables 12.1 and 7.2a.)

Going forward there is still a lot of coal power which could be displaced by natural gas power.  This would require a more global disbursement of fracking and horizontal drilling technologies which have radically altered the U.S. domestic production of both oil and natural gas (see charts below).  Either this, or the U.S. build and complete pipeline and export terminals for supplying more of the world’s demand for natural gas in power generation (via conversion to natural gas liquids and back again to dry natural gas, then put through generating turbines).

My review of U.S. General Accounting Office Report “GAO-14-836 Energy Policy” suggests federal government subsidization of natural gas is very minimal at pennies on the dollar.  By comparison, wind and solar federal government subsidies amount to 30% or more.

This leaves me curious as to the possibilities and costs of sequestering carbon dioxide by simply growing more trees, then converting the growth to lumber/building product (sequestering for decades) versus continued subsidies and mandates prescribing renewables.  I have heard the drawback to sequestering by planting more trees is that there are limits on land suitable for doing so.  I intend to research sequestering via tree planting and conversion to lumber.  My own City of Milwaukie (Oregon) is drafting a climate action plan which will probably be solar “friendly;” and yet I am left wondering if it might be easiest to just implement voluntary tree planting programs or plantings on public lands and right away.

(It is interesting too that the Energy Information Administration is mixed in its views about the carbon reduction effectiveness of biomass fuel substitution for fossil fuels, page 188 of the Monthly Energy Review.)

Bob Clark is a retired economist living in Milwaukie, Oregon. Clark previously worked for the Oregon Public Utility Commission and BPA.

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  • Bob Clark

    Must have submitted graphs in wrong format or something to catalyst. Had submitted article in both Docx and pdf formats. Sorry.

    • Reagan Knopp

      Not your fault. We had an issue with the images on the site. It’s now fixed.

  • Oregon Engineer

    The primary purpose for the Paris Climate Agreement was to globally redistribute wealth from the developed economies to the poor exploited developing economies. All developed economies got that way due to cheap energy, and that continues to be the case. I see that nowhere is hydroelectric power mentioned or that the gas fired generators must be kept running at the alternative energy collection stations 24 hours due to the need to fill in for the wind and solar to even out the load changes. Good luck to you Bob as the taxes in Milwaukee will be going up to sustain the increased use of energy as the efficiencies will not keep up with the cost increases as will the cost of power to individuals.

    I s there a graph in that report indicating a cost comparison of all the energy sources, excluding all government subsidies. also as to cost associated with the number of people required to support each energy source here
    http://www.aei.org/publication/todays-most-productive-energy-workers-are-in-coal-and-gas-not-solar/

    • Bob Clark

      Thank you for the reference, Oregon Engineer. The GAO report 14-836 does not sum up conveniently federal government subsidies to each form of energy, but you have to go table by table plus consider overlapping time periods plus input how much energy is supplied by each energy type to just get a rough idea of subsidy levels at the federal level. Then each state and locality throws in some more subsidies in varying amounts, and this would take a significant effort to tabulate. WattsUp website has taken a stab at this question,of relative subsidies, and it also finds subsidies to renewables exceeding by magnitudes those of conventional fossil fuel supplies.
      I’ll try to tabulate cost of each energy type, using data from the Northwest Power Planning Council plus GAO and other subsidy information. But this will take awhile like weeks given my schedule.

      p.s. Federal subsidies are set to expire if not renewed I hear by the years 2019 through 2022.

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