carbon dioxide

Post image for Despite Kyoto, UK Carbon Footprint Bigger than Ever

The European Union (EU) preens itself on being the global leader in the fight against climate change. EU politicians scold the USA for ‘failing’ to ratify Kyoto Protocol and enact cap-and-trade. Within the EU, the UK champions the most aggressive climate policies. So the UK’s carbon footprint must be shrinking, right?

Not according to a new report by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra). The UK’s total net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose 35% between 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol baseline year) and 2005. Emissions declined by 9% from 2008 to 2009 due to the worldwide recession. Nonetheless, the country’s carbon footprint was 20% bigger in 2009 than in 1990. How can this be?

Defra used a life cycle analysis (LCA) to estimate the UK economy’s net emissions. The agency examined not only the CO2 emitted by households and firms within the UK but also the emissions induced by the UK’s demand for imported goods. Carbon dioxide is emitted when goods are manufactured for export in, say, China, and then again when those goods are transported to the UK.

Emissions “embedded” in UK imports are increasing much faster than emissions from domestic production are declining. From 1990 to 2009, CO2 emitted by UK households and firms decreased by 14%. During the same period, emissions from imports directly used by UK consumers increased by 79% and emissions from imports used by UK businesses increased by 128%.

The Kyoto Protocol does not “cover” (regulate) import-induced emissions. So under Kyoto’s accounting rules, UK emissions are down. In reality, the UK has outsourced a sizeable chunk of its emissions along with its heavy industry. As one blogger commented, “The UK’s outsourced emissions almost double its carbon footprint.”

Source: Defra, UK’s Carbon Footprint 1990-2009

Post image for EPA’s “Carbon Pollution” Standard for Power Plants: Four Ways Weird

Yesterday, EPA proposed its first-ever “carbon pollution standard rule” for power plants. The rule would establish a new source performance standard (NSPS) for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel electric generating units (EGUs). The proposed standard is an emission rate of 1,000 lbs CO2 per megawatt hour. About 95% of all natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants already meet the standard (p. 115). No existing coal power plants do. Even today’s most efficient coal plants emit, on average, 1,800 lbs CO2/MWh (p. 134). EPA is effectively banning investment in new coal electric generation.

Like the rest of EPA’s greenhouse agenda, the proposed rule is an affront to the Constitution’s separation of powers. Congress never voted to prohibit the construction of new coal power plants. Indeed, Congress declined to pass less restrictive limits on coal electric generation when Senate leaders pulled the plug on cap-and-trade. Congress should reassert its constitutional authority, overturn the rule, and rein in this rogue agency. [click to continue…]

Post image for Arnold Revisits Judgment Day

Depending on where you live, April 21, 2011 may have already faded into yet another non-apocalyptic win for humanity. If not, you may still have about 12 hours to be worried.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken to The Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to warn of the potential future termination of humanity:

Today, I have tears in my eyes again, but for a very different reason. Some in Washington are threatening to pull the plug on this success. Since January, there have been more than a dozen proposals in Congress to limit enforcement of our clean-air rules, create special-interest loopholes, and attempt to reverse scientific findings. These attacks go by different names and target different aspects of the law, but they all amount to the same thing: dirtier air.

This is not an abstract political fight. If these proposals are passed, more mercury, dioxins, carbon pollution and acid gases will end up in the air our kids breathe. More Americans will get sick, end up in the hospital, and die from respiratory illness.

Don’t cry, Arnold! Much of this is an abstract political fight. The major push back and political grandstanding against the proposed EPA rules is what, if anything, should be done about the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The only proposal floated by Congress was found to be horribly ineffective, even by many environmentalists. During that fight, the Obama administration threatened opponents to accept it, because EPA regulations would follow if the legislation didn’t pass, and the EPA wasn’t capable of providing efficient or even effective “solutions.”

And here we are, with the EPA moving forward on costly regulations (during a recession) that, according to their own estimates, will reduce temperatures in 2100 by anywhere from 0.0015 to 0.006 degrees centigrade. Remember, Arnold, whatever your opinion on the historical benefits of the EPA, past performance is no guarantee of future success.

Finally, Arnold points to California as a model economy:

And, as I know from California’s experience, clean-air rules have led to innovation and new technologies that have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions in clean-energy investment.

I’m not sure California ought to be cited as the model of anything, given their inability to budget and the steady exodus of business from the state.


I attended an excellent briefing  today on “Creating a low-carbon future” by Michael Howard of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  The event  was hosted by the U. S. Energy Association and its executive director, Barry Worthington.   EPRI has done a lot of work on how the electricity sector could meet the greenhouse gas emissions target in the Waxman-Markey energy-rationing bill.  That target is economy-wide emissions 83% below 2005 levels by 2050.

Howard said that EPRI wanted to identify a strategy by which the electric sector could be de-carbonized affordably.  Here’s the background and how EPRI would do it:

The decisions made today and in the next few years will shape electric generation in 2050, so we have to make the right decisions starting now.  Electricity generation accounts for about one-third of the 2005 U. S. total of six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.  Electric rates in constant dollars have been remarkably flat for the past forty years.

EPRI has identified two paths to meeting the 83% reduction target.  The first is by deploying a full portfolio of energy sources.  A full portfolio would most notably include expanded nuclear power and widespread carbon capture and storage for coal and natural gas.  The second is by deploying a limited portfolio of sources that would exclude nuclear and carbon capture and storage.

What is most apparent in EPRI’s modeling is that the limited portfolio approach would end the use of coal completely by 2030.  Renewables would go up, but the biggest increases would be in the use of natural gas.  The result is that electricity would become very expensive, with rates tripling by 2050 in constant dollars.  In addition, we would be forced to use much less electricity in order to meet the emissions reduction targets.

The full portfolio scenario projects that most of the cuts would be made by building new nuclear power plants and new coal plants that capture and store 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced.  Natural gas use would go down considerably.  EPRI projects that electric rates would not quite double by 2050 were the full portfolio approach pursued.  Enforced reductions in use would only be about half as severe under the full portfolio compared to the limited portfolio.

The full portfolio scenario sounds very nice, but it’s fantasy.  It has almost nothing to do with the real world.  What EPRI (understandably) does not include in their models are the increasing political, regulatory, and legal obstacles to building new power plants.  Even if carbon capture and storage technology becomes commercially viable by 2020 (which is highly unlikely), it will take decades to permit and build more than a handful of coal plants that capture the carbon dioxide, the pipelines to transport it, and the underground pockets to store it.   Permitting delays will put pipeline siting and construction years behind schedule.  Lawsuits will be filed claiming that pressurized CO2 is too dangerous to be allowed.   Similarly, a few new nuclear power plants may be built in the next twenty years, but building a lot of new plants will take decades to overcome the permitting obstructions.

These obstacles do not apply only to coal and nuclear plants.  Proposed wind and solar energy projects are being blocked and delayed all around the country.  Bobby Kennedy, jnr., is leading the campaign to block a big wind farm off Cape Cod, where his family own valuable, scenic vacation property.  At the same time, Kennedy has lashed out at local environmental pressure groups at the other end of the country that are trying to block a big solar energy development in the Mojave Desert that he has invested in.  Even if both projects eventually get built, they are being delayed for years.  This is a problem that the environmental pressure groups have helped to create and don’t want to admit exists.  It means that the limited portfolio approach modeled by EPRI is fantasy, too.

One of the problems with relying on EPRI’s or any of the economic models to predict the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is that they assume that political decisions will be made in a rational, orderly way that will allow economic decisions to be made in an efficient way.  The Waxman-Markey energy rationing bill (H. R. 2454) is just the latest disproof of this assumption.  The bill creates a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions and then adds several hundred other programs to pay off individual special interests.  Nearly all these programs get in the way of the efficient working of cap-and-trade.  They will raise the costs of making mandatory reductions beyond what any model can predict.

Global warming may or may not be a problem.  Man may or may not be driving it.  Given the uncertainties, a significant amount of global regret may apply if we divert too much of our global wealth to solving what may be a non-existent or trivial problem, especially if that diversion mires billions in poverty.  On the other hand, we may also regret not doing anything if man-made global warming does turn out to be a problem.  It is therefore prudent to examine what steps we can take that would prove beneficial whether or not anthropogenic global warming turns out to be a problem.  These steps can be termed “no regrets” policies.

What makes a No Regrets Global Warming Policy?  A global warming policy can be termed “no regrets” as long as it:

  • Reduces the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, or
  • Mitigates, prevents or reduces a harm associated with global warming, or
  • Provides greater capacity for dealing with problems associated with global warming
  • Without imposing significant cost or diverting economic activity.

Top Five “No Regrets” Policies

1.)  Eliminate all subsidies to fuel use.
Subsidies to energy R&D cost taxpayers millions of dollars while producing minimal benefits. While these programs may be relatively small given the size of domestic energy markets, they serve little, if any, useful purpose while subsidizing large corporations at taxpayer expense. The potential threat of global warming, whether it is real or not, is simply one more reason to eliminate these subsidy programs. An international agreement aimed at ending energy subsidy with binding targets would be a significant victory for emissions reduction.  Unlike Kyoto, which forces an energy starvation diet on its participants, such a treaty would be a move to combat energy obesity.

2.)  Repeal the Federal Flood Insurance Program.
Much of the concern over global warming’s potential for harm in the US relates to sea level rise and the flooding that will result.  However, much of the investment in potentially vulnerable areas is a result of the Federal flood Insurance Program.  This program encourages building in vulnerable areas by acting as a moral hazard: people take greater risks because the government has said it will help bear that risk. Reform would reduce the moral hazard connected with building on vulnerable land, transferring the risk from the taxpayer to the private sector, which is likely to take a more realistic view of the issue.

3.)  Reform Air Traffic Control Systems.
Greater demand for air travel means more flights, which means greater fuel use and increased emissions. Yet, the current government-operated system of air traffic control, based on a 1920s-era system of beacons, may hinder innovations that could reduce fuel use and emissions. As a general rule, the shorter the flight, the less fuel will be consumed. Yet neither airlines nor pilots have the freedom to choose the most direct and economical route. Giving pilots freedom to map their own course is an attractive and desirable change in the eyes of the industry, and the impact on the environment would be tremendous. As well as saving considerable amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, the policy will deliver significant benefits in terms of time and expense to the US economy.  By obviating significant reductions in service levels associated with more routine applications of emissions reduction policy, it is to be preferred to that approach.

4.)  Facilitate Electricity Competition.
By rejecting the model of central regulation and allowing suppliers to meet their customers’ needs more exactly while relying on distributed generation, energy waste and the associated emissions will reduce considerably.  This reduction in waste will prove economically beneficial even if emissions themselves do not cause problems.

5.) Reduce Regulatory Barriers to New Nuclear Build.
There is no other technology than nuclear that is proven to be capable of providing emissions-free energy at the scale required to make significant reductions in carbon emissions.  The problem is that thanks to anti-nuclear activism by environmentalists in the 1970s, it takes a very long time to build a nuclear plant.  This pushes development and construction costs up to the level where it is not economically competitive with higher-emitting forms of electricity generation like coal and natural gas.  According to the nuclear energy institute, it takes 10 years from concept to operation to build a nuclear plant, and only four of those are construction, the rest is permit application development (2 years) and decision-making by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (4 years).