When it comes to CO2 reduction, economy rules, activism drools

From the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis: Economy main factor in US emissions decline

From 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83 percent of the decrease was due to economic factors including consumption and production changes, and just 17 percent of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. Credit: Feng K, Davis SJ, Sun L, Hubacek K. 2015. Drivers of the US CO2 emissions 1997-2013. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS8714

From 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83 percent of the decrease was due to economic factors including consumption and production changes, and just 17 percent of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. Credit: Feng K, Davis SJ, Sun L, Hubacek K. 2015. Drivers of the US CO2 emissions 1997-2013. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS8714

From 2007 to 2013, US carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels decreased by about 11%. This decline was widely attributed to a shift from coal to natural gas in US electricity production. However, a new analysis published in the journal Nature Communications shows that, in fact, the recent economic recession accounts for the majority of the decline.

“Natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal when used to make electricity,” explains IIASA researcher and University of Maryland professor Laixiang Sun, who conducted the study with colleagues at the University of Maryland. However, he says, “This calculation fails to take into account the release of methane from natural-gas wells and pipelines, which also contributes to climate change.”

In the United States, coal-powered electricity went from 50% to 37% of the generation mix between 2007 and 2012, with the bulk of it replaced by natural gas, in large part due to new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and underground mapping technologies. Because this shift occurred at the same time as the reduction in emissions, many commentators linked the two.

Yet in addition to the economy, other factors such as population growth and energy efficiency also affect total emissions. Before the new study, nobody had analyzed the various causes of the decline in a quantitative, systematic way.

“If we don’t understand the factors that led to this emissions reduction, we won’t know how to effectively reduce emissions in the future,” says University of Maryland professor Klaus Hubacek, who is also an alumnus of IIASA’s Young Scientists Summer Program.

To tease out the causes of the decline in emissions researchers used a method known as Structural Decomposition Analysis to tease apart the various contributions of six different factors related to energy use and CO2 emissions. Using this method, they were able to determine the relative influence of changes in population, amount and patterns of consumption, production structure, and changes in fuel mix on total emissions of greenhouse gases.

The study found that from 1997 to 2007, a period of rising emissions, 71% of the increase was due to increase in US consumption of goods and services, with the remainder due to population growth. From 2007 to 2009, when emissions declined the most, the study finds that 83% of the decrease was due to economic factors including consumption and production changes, and just 17% of the decline related to changes in the fuel mix. After 2009, emissions declined by only about 1%, and this was due to a mix of all three factors.

Knowing the relative influence of such factors on emissions is important for making effective plans and policies for future climate mitigation, the researchers say. In particular, the researchers say, the study may indicate that further increase in use of natural gas may not have major benefits for the climate. While natural gas can substitute for coal, research also shows that cheap and abundant natural gas can limit the growth of carbon neutral energy sources including solar, wind, and nuclear.

Sun explains, “Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama Administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the U.S. economy, as well as radical decarbonization of the energy sector.”

###

Reference

Feng K, Davis SJ, Sun L, Hubacek K. 2015. Drivers of the US CO2 emissions 1997-2013. Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS8714

Advertisements

67 thoughts on “When it comes to CO2 reduction, economy rules, activism drools

  1. I’ve never understood how natural gas emits half as much CO2 in electricity production. Does it just have to do with better efficiency of the apparatus?

    • Natural gas is mostly methane. Molecule CH4. So for each atom of Carbon resulting in CO2 you are burning 4 atoms of Hydrogen resulting in H20. Coal is practically pure Carbon so no hydrogen burning, only CO2…

      • Not only is the CO2 emissions from burning methane lower than for coal, the overall energy efficiency of a combined cycle NG power plant is very high. Modern designs are over 60% thermally efficient. This is harder to do with coal fired plants, but efficiency improvements can be implemented. Most coal fired power plants are old and not very efficient by modern standards at around 33% thermally efficient. However, retrofitting these old plants with new technology isn’t economically justified with all the other emissions regulations being placed on coal fired plants.

      • Remaining US coal power plants are typically 35 to 38% efficient while gas turbines by themselves are also 32 to 38%. While it is true the only plant you can probably get permitted in today’s regulatory environment is a combined cycle natural gas plant that could achieve from 50% (cyclic) to 60% (base load) efficiency, only a handful have been built so far and aren’t nearly as big as the mega coal complexes that were built in the past. The problem is economics.
        Grandfathered coal plants are well past their useful lives because New Source rules have always been a bureaucratic nightmare so they have historically been converted to oil and then gas to keep them running, typically with 10%, or so, lower efficiency due to coal’s inherent higher adiabatic flame temp (and despite spot fuel prices that were 50% higher than coal on a btu basis).
        Gas turbines offered many environmental and ramping advantages but regulations for new large plants were stricter than smaller, isolated peaking stations, and because natural gas historically cost 3 to 4 time more than it does today, there were many limitations to their adoption for wholesale replacement of existing regional coal plant inventory (which as a consequence, resulted in great investment returns from existing plants). This all changed when Obama was elected and all energy spiked in anticipation of fascist control of government agencies and courts (the dictum “markets are always right” is proven to be prescient once again, as is all too apparent today).
        Now that the fracking revolution has brought nat gas prices down to only about 12% higher than coal on a production basis, the future is clear, so long as the price trends continue. However, it never makes economic sense to retire functional, productive assets just to “lead the World by example for no measurable environmental benefit” (to paraphrase EPA Administrator McCarthy rationale to Congress).

      • Methane is 25% Hydrogen by mass and Hydrogen has a heck of a lot of energy in it per kg but it doesn’t weigh much. On a Higher Heating Value basis, the four hydrogen atoms in a methane molecule will release about 1.4 times the energy release of the one Carbon. The hydrogen level is coal is less than 5% by mass.
        Coal can be gasified, and sprayed with water to absorb heat and create ‘water gas’ and then all burned in a gas turbine. The turbine turns a generator. The exhaust is really hot and can make steam. The steam can turn another generator. This is called a combined cycle.
        A coal burner makes gas by roasting the coal, but burns it directly into the steam generator without forcing any rotating parts so it is sort of a waste.
        Coal fired power stations can be about 42% efficient but combined cycle ones are about 70% which is better than the natural gas ones. There are sound thermodynamic reasons for this.
        In Asia the old coal fired stations are about 35% efficient but remember that is for electricity only. They use the extra heat to warm water and heat whole cities with it. That, Combined Heat and Power, CHP, is really efficient so don’t knock what has not been fully described. In the USA that heat has always been wasted because district heating is popular in Russia and China and Sweden so it is ‘communist’. I think that is the reason, there is no energy-related reason to be so wasteful. 😉
        When common sense finally prevails heat will not be wasted. In ‘communist’ Canada hot water from generators is used to warm the Utilidors that bring water and sewage connections to all the homes in places like Inuvik. It is interesting, when faced with freezing to death or sharing an available resource equitably, how cooperative people become.
        China disconnects gigawatts of windmills in winter because the power stations have to run anyway to heat the cities. They waste the wind, not the heat. Interesting contrast.

    • however some recent work suggests that drops a lot over distance its required to be piped.

    • They’re way ahead of you, at least here in the U.S. Harming the economy is what all the EPA and tough business regulations are meant to do. Putting coal-fired plants out of business only gets you so far. But a weak economy slows production, kills jobs, reduces driving, and causes people and businesses to use less energy by choice to save money. Many people won’t blame the government for a poor economy because they can’t imagine their own government keeping the economy depressed by design.

      • Which shifted manufacturing to China which uses Coal for 80% of the electrical needs.
        So, US reduces it’s CO2 emission by importation of Chinese goods [which require electrical energy to make].
        So effort to reduce US emission has accelerated Chinese CO2 emission, so that now China emits more than twice as much CO2 as the US does- plus China emits massive amounts of toxic pollution.
        So obviously rather than reduce Global CO2 emission, these policies have increased CO2 emissions and caused more pollution- and reduced the amount US middle class manufacturing jobs.

  2. The Greeks are doing the best job at CO2 reduction. Let’s plot the countries without labels and do a survey of policy leaders to see which ones they pick to emulate.

  3. Why “carbon” in the first place? A colleague emailed me the following link to a new book. He is acquainted with one of the authors:
    http://www.amazon.com/Indisputable-Proof-Dominate-Global-Climate/dp/1511926600/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437500567&sr=1-2&keywords=arthur+lucas
    Indisputable Proof: That CO2 Does Not Dominate Global Climate
    Two excerpts from the review:
    “With complete confidence in the Antarctica, Greenland, deep ocean and other data, we show indisputable evidence that airborne carbon dioxide concentrations has not in the past, does not now dominate our Global Climate and in particular does not dominate Global Surface Air Temperature.”
    “Thus, we must accept that we do not understand the mechanisms of our past, present and future Global Climate. But this work does prove that the astronomical forces dominate our global climate and carbon dioxide plays only a small secondary role.”

    • I like your post.
      The continuing funding of emission studies only serve to perpetuate the nonsense of CO2, which is expected from the political agenda which has no lack of funds. IMO, the discussion should be concentrated on the nonsense of CO2 and its relevance to any warming or lack thereof. My point is that these type of studies are inebriating even the skeptics to respond to the specifics, thus delving into minutiae and missing the big picture (forest for the trees).

  4. They should have also plotted the participation in the work force.
    “Since the final quarter of 2007, the labor force participation rate has fallen from 65.9 percent to 62.8 percent in the second quarter of 2014, a decline of 3.1 percentage points. In this report, the Council of Economic Advisers estimates that this 3.1 percentage point decline can be attributed to three main sources.”
    This despite a growth of population and a huge influx of illegals.
    As others have said we need to go the way of Greece and our CO 2 emissions will further decline as expected with the decarburization policy, less employment.

  5. 17% reduction in emissions from a changing fuel mix still seems pretty significant to me, as much as the study downplays it. Increased energy use efficiency is also key and should continue. What with natural gas continuing to replace coal and the Democrat/regulatory state seeming to have locked the U.S. into a state of permanent economic malaise, CO2 reduction should be no problem! Assuming that is the goal ….

    • The decline was 11% for the period in question. That 11% was divided up into components. 83% economic, 17% fuel mix, not that big a drop considering a very radical and draconian War On Coal.

      • 17% of 11% is SFA.
        switching to natural gas cut emissions by 1.9%. WOW. We are on a freight train to South Dakota, burning $100 bills as fuel.

  6. Interesting. They find the biggest single factor was a change in the energy intensiveness of economic production. As the economy switched to service industries, perhaps?
    But I had assumed that an abundance of energy (from fracking) would lead to cheaper energy and so less drive to reduce energy intensiveness. The opposite.
    This result is counter-intuitive. Unless the USA has really lost all its industry to China.

  7. Proof that CO2 has no effect on climate is expressed in steps as follows:
    1) Atmospheric CO2 has been identified as a possible climate change forcing. Forcings, according to the ‘consensus’ and the IPCC, have units of J s-1 m-2.
    2) A thermal forcing (or some function thereof) acting for a time period accumulates energy.
    3) If the forcing varies (or not), the energy is determined by the time-integral of the forcing (or function thereof)
    4) Energy, in units J m-2, divided by the effective thermal capacitance (J K-1 m-2) equals average global temperature (AGT) change (K).
    5) Thus (in consistent units) the time-integral of the atmospheric CO2 level (or some function thereof) times a scale factor must closely equal the average global temperature change.
    6) When this is applied to multiple corroborated estimates of paleo CO2 and average global temperature (such as extant examples from past glaciations/interglacials ice cores, and proxy data for the entire Phanerozoic eon), the only thing that consistently works is if the effect of CO2 is negligible and something else is causing the temperature change.
    Three estimates of paleo temperatures are shown at these links:
    Temperature during the Phanerozoic: http://mysite.science.uottawa.ca/idclark/courses/Veizer%20Nature%202001.pdf
    Average global temperature and CO2 levels during the entire Phanerozoic eon (about 542 million years) http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html.
    CO2 & temp during glacial and interglacial periods of the current ice age: Figure 1 at http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperature.htm (Ignore the narrative nonsense at this site. SS has a poor grasp of the relation between mathematics and the physical world.)
    For all time, atmospheric CO2 level must have been higher than 150 ppmv or so for life as we know it to exist.
    Identification of the two factors that do cause reported climate change (sunspot number is the only independent variable) is at http://agwunveiled.blogspot.com (now with 5-year running-average smoothing of measured average global temperature (AGT), the near-perfect explanation of AGT, R^2 = 0.97+ since before 1900).
    The ongoing average global temperature trend is down. Monthly reported temperatures are being temporarily propped up by el Nino.

  8. How does one factor in the closing of 58,000 factories in the U.S. since 2000 (when we cheerleaded China into the WTO)? So much of our production is offshore compared to just 20 years ago it’s simply shocking. It’s not an exaggeration to say we’ve scraped out the core of our industrial production in that period of time.

  9. Too bad that this is all based on the fallacy that CO2 is the primary driver of temperature. That is where the economic damage will stem from.

  10. . While natural gas can substitute for coal, research also shows that cheap and abundant natural gas can limit the growth of carbon neutral energy sources including solar, wind, and nuclear.

    In other words natural gas beats renewables (and nuclear) because it’s cheaper. Welcome to capitalism Greenies. It’s how we roll in the Western world!
    You wouldn’t be able to sit around in your coffee shops sipping organic soy lattes and plotting the next ‘revolution’ without the comforts that capitalism has given you.

      • D.I.
        Did you use the f word?
        Not the ubiquitous intercourse-adjectival present participle.
        No – the really r e a l l y bad f-word.
        Has 5 letters, ends in d, and uses the first, eighteenth and twenty-first letters of our alphabet.
        Even in innocence that seems to get sent to moderation.
        Smiles
        Auto
        [Don’t hide it: Yes, “fraud” IS one of several words in a very short list that does cause a new comment to always drop into the “to be reviewed” queue. Then it gets reviewed, and – almost always – gets approved. Don’t worry about it – Life happens. .mod]

  11. Let me understand: A first world first class technological society, A first world first class educational system. A first world first class healthcare and medical research system. A first world first class military. Supported by a de-indsustrialisng society with a weakening education system, and decreasing taxes from decreasing real wages, Adjustments and sequesters will need to be made.
    Sadly I experienced some of these things a long time ago. The society, with much hope, passed through the hands of a mean dictator that made things even worse.

    • why is it that the country that champions free enterprise never elects anyone that has successfully run a business? instead, you elect lawyers to lead you, and wonder why the country is tied up in red tape.

      • Joel D. Jackson July 21, 2015 at 6:32 pm
        Nor community organizers. In particular those who emulate Saul Alinsky.

      • JJ says, George W Bush was not a lawyer.
        He was a businessman, with an MBA.
        He proves businessmen don’t make good presidents.
        =================================
        At least he tried on multiple occasions to warn the senate finance committee that the MBS industry, led by the GSEs Fanny and Freddy, and the entire loan process was in severe danger of crippling the economy. To bad the democrats in control ignored every warning, even citing their Ivy League Keynesian progressive MBAs that everything was just fine, in fact triple A rated.

    • Dear otsar,
      There is only ONE (world) and you’re on it. There is no such thing as a first world or a second world or even a third world.
      Regards,
      WL

  12. The UN and the EPA have given as a US goal to reduce CO2 emissions in 2050 by 80% relative to year 2005. A year ago I did a rough calculation of what changes in energy sources that might require, assuming no growth in energy demand (an unlikely situation). The US CO2 emission is already down a significant amount (as this article explains). Some CO2 reduction has already occurred in land use practices and energy efficiency. I estimated that total substitution of gas for coal in power production might decrease the US CO2 up to ~28% (relative to 2005). [That is Obama’s promised 26-28% reduction by 2030, moved to 2025.] IF the US were to totally eliminate oil use for transportation and substitute electrical power produced by gas, this could raise total CO2 reduction up to about 40%, or half of the UN & EPA goal. To even come close to an 80% CO2 reduction (which today would require an energy use similar to that of over a century ago), would require the total elimination of all fossil fuel use — coal, oil, and gas.
    Emphasizes the difficult role renewables have to achieve an 80% reduction.

    • It is a suicidal policy while the deal with China allows them to pick up the slack in US CO 2 emissions.
      Remember the same person said you can keep your insurance and doctor.

  13. This is terrible! This should be the goal of our next president then; to raise our CO2 emission levels back to at least what they were in 2007, and hopefully beyond that. It is not only what is best for America, but for a greening planet as well.
    GoCarbon700!

  14. Sun explains, “Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama Administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the U.S. economy, as well as radical decarbonization of the energy sector.”

    Talk about contradictions in terms. What is our “economic growth” supposed to consist of? Making things by hand? Carving cars out of wood? Returning to a horse-drawn economy?
    And I’m really curious about this radical decarbonization of the energy sector he refers to.
    Bring on the Great Depression, the one that will make the one in the 1930’s look like boom times.
    rgb

    • Why haven’t you published your critical analyses, rgb? You’re highly qualified, highly credible, and could have a seriously positive impact. These people are mortally dangerous, highly committed, and rendered imbecilic by their passion. You need to step up; publicly up.

      • Desperate times require desperate measures. Sometimes you have to go to war.
        rgb seems like a guy who can take the heat and dish it right back. With science on his side, he can’t lose.

  15. Our economy has never really recovered from the Great Recession. Like others have pointed out we have shipped our manufacturing and our pollution to China.

  16. The Carbon bigots tell us this fails to take account of seepage from wells but they fail to take account of the fact that clearly this natural gas would eventually find a way out or it would build up and explode. We know the former is the case as occasionally it does so in spectacular fashion like the fire crater in Russia.
    When we collect and burn the gas we are actually reducing emissions not increasing them as we are replacing methane by straight CO2.

  17. Whats funny is that a study is needed to show the obvious; by far the greatest method for reducing emissions is to reduce economic growth and limiting population.
    With this study though I wonder when alarmists will start advocating for economic malaise and a carbon tax on all new born babies.

  18. Alx
    …..With this study though I wonder when alarmists will start advocating for economic malaise and a carbon tax on all new born babies……
    Sorry but you are a bit behind the times I think. They were there years ago.
    David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!: “My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with it’s full complement of species, returning throughout the world.”
    These Eco nuts make Hitler’s idea of genocide look really petty small thinking doesn’t it with an aim of 6.9 Billion to be eliminated.

  19. Part of understanding climate change comes from discovering what does NOT cause it.
    Atmospheric carbon dioxide has been higher than now (usually several times higher) for most of the existence of earth. It is required for life as we know it. If it had any effect on climate, we wouldn’t be here to fuss over it.

  20. ‘Sun explains, “Sustaining economic growth while also drastically reducing emissions to the levels targeted by the Obama Administration will depend upon large additional decreases in the energy intensity of the U.S. economy, as well as radical decarbonization of the energy sector.”’
    ____
    gains, condensed, a strong correlation:
    mass starvation + raised mortality leaves the greens large depopulized fields to reconquest: the sustainable dream.
    Sun + Obama Administration: in advent of a winning team.

  21. Color me skeptical about CO2 emissions estimates. First of all, they aren’t measured, they’re calculated from the amount and type of fuel burned, derived from the chemical composition of the fuel. There are large margins of error. Statistical methods are then applied to sketchy estimates to tease out essentially whatever result the researchers desire. All this statistical analysis of fuel consumption, global temperatures, ocean pH, radiative forcing, as well as epidemiological studies that tell us one thing about diet and human health one year and contradict it a few years later seems very sciencey but in fact isn’t far removed from reading tea leaves and entrails. There’s a great scene in “Willow” that illustrates this. The village shaman is trying to determine who will undertake the quest to return the alien child to its home. He declares to the assembly, “I will consult the bones!” After gazing at the bones for a bit, he says under his breath, “The bones tell me nothing.” He then asks Willow quietly, “Have you any love for this child?” When Willow responds affirmatively, the shaman shouts, “The bones have spoken!”
    That’s how I view conclusions drawn from statistical analysis of essentially chaotic systems. The bones have spoken!

  22. Emissions went up while the economy was growing (up to 2007) and down since the financial, economic, monetary, and state deficit and debt crisis.
    Please note that none of this is the result of any planning or voluntarism for decarbonation,

  23. The economy was “decoupling” from emissions of pollutants even before we had a strong anti-pollution policy. You’ll see this in the chart in the first link below. It started well before the central planners created the EPA. Chalk it up to economic actors, driven by dynamic competitive market forces, continuously striving to improve manufacturing, mining, drilling and all other processes to get an edge to become more efficient.
    https://twitter.com/MaxCRoser/status/590226839546691584
    And here’s one of my favorite charts from the EPA. There is so much information packed into one simple graph that can be analyzed and draw conclusions about trends in the economy.
    http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/images/y70_13.png
    The most obvious is that economic growth is not dependent on either more pollution or more CO2. Expect this trend to continue as the economy shifts away from physical stuff and focuses more on services and information. Another thing to note is that as depicted in the “energy consumption” graph, the miles driven by Americans seems to have peaked. Yet each new generation of vehicle is more fuel efficient than the previous, so that is also putting downward pressure on CO2 and pollution emissions. And all of this has happened while the population has increased by several tens of millions of people. It’s why I think Jesse Ausubel may be right that CO2 emissions in the U.S. may have already peaked regardless of what the central planners do.

Comments are closed.