Climate policy

US emissions increase hints at limitations of Obama’s clean power plan

  • 22 Oct 2014, 17:10
  • Mat Hope

US energy sector emissions increased slightly in 2013, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This may seem like bad news for President Obama, who has pledged to cut the country's emissions 17 per cent by 2020.

Obama unveiled his  clean power plan earlier this year to much fanfare. The centrepiece of the plan is to reduce emissions from electricity generation by 30 per cent by 2020.

The US's rising energy sector emissions seem to  suggest the policy may not be as effective as Obama hopes.

Obama's clean power plan specifically targets emissions from power generation, which accounts for   about 32 per cent of the US's total emissions. Cutting emissions from the US's homes and businesses is a much smaller part of his wider   Climate Action Plan.

The EIA's data shows the potential limitations of focusing on cutting power generation emissions without addressing the country's broader energy consumption.

Emissions increase

US energy sector emissions increased 2.5 per cent in 2013 compared to year before, the EIA's data shows. The EIA says the main reason for the increase was colder weather.

Winter temperatures at the start of 2013 were lower than a year before, and the US also experienced a particularly mild spring last year. Temperatures fell again later in the year, when the US was  engulfed by the polar vortex.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 16.15.40.png
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average monthly temperatures. Graph by Carbon Brief.

Households and businesses turned up their thermostats in response to the lower temperatures, which meant burning a lot more gas and a bit more oil. The residential sector was responsible for 48 per cent of 2013's emissions increase, mostly due to heat demand, the EIA says.

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Analysis: Who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework

  • 17 Oct 2014, 12:45
  • Simon Evans

Ambitious EU 2030 climate targets could be crucial to unlocking a global climate deal in Paris next year. Yet EU leaders still can't agree the details, with just days to go.

Uncertainty remains because different EU member states want different things from the 2030 policy framework, which will set the trajectory for EU climate and energy policy for the next 15 years. Some countries want three targets - to cut emissions, increase use of renewable energy and boost take up of energy efficiency. Others want an emissions target only. And a few say they will only accept targets with sweeteners.

So who wants what from the EU 2030 climate framework, and what does that mean for how ambitious it will be?

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Owen Paterson on scrapping the UK’s commitment to reducing emissions

  • 15 Oct 2014, 20:50
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

Former environment secretary Owen Paterson tonight delivered a lecture to climate skeptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation. In his speech, he called on the government to suspend the UK's legally binding obligation to cut emissions and abandon its pursuit of renewable energy in favour of submarine-style nuclear power.

Paterson's speech was  heavily trailed in the media earlier this week, which we  analysed in detail here. Here's a summary, with some extra context on what Paterson had to say on...

The science

Paterson suggests forecasts of climate change's impacts have been "consistently and widely exaggerated", adding that the atmosphere has failed "to warm at all over the past 18 years".

This is incorrect. The atmosphere has warmed by about 0.05 degrees since the end of the 1990s. This is slower than in previous decades, but when what's happening to the oceans is also considered, scientists are clear that the planet as a whole is warming.

Scientists expect air temperatures to rise quickly again when natural cycles that are currently pushing heat into the deep ocean reverse. This kind of natural fluctuation has happened many times in earth's history - and when you take the ups and downs out, the long term trend is one of warming since industrialisation.

Paterson doesn't dispute that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but he says there is "considerable uncertainty" over how much warming we'll see.

Scientists haven't pinned down exactly how much temperatures rise per doubling of carbon dioxide - known as the climate sensitivity. But importantly, if we continue emitting greenhouse gases as fast as we are, we'll see serious warming this century wherever climate sensitivity sits within the range scientists have identified.

The lights going out

Cutting emissions and decarbonising the energy sector means "the lights would eventually go out".

While the idea of the lights going out is an attractive shorthand for journalists and commentators, it  isn't seriously expected to become reality.

However, the government has long recognised the need for significant investment to replace the UK's aging energy infrastructure. Many of the UK's power stations are  very old and are due to  reach the end of their natural life over the coming decades. There are  particular concerns about generating capacity over the next few winters.

That's why the government is planning to pay firms to  reduce demand at peak times, and is creating a  capacity market. This will pay power companies money to ensure there is always enough capacity to cover peak demand, so that the lights will always stay on, even if we have to pay to make sure.

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