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Kerry: US “on track” to meet its Copenhagen goals

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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One takeaway from the Administration’s 2014 Climate Action Report is that for a host of reasons, some planned and some by luck/market forces, the US is in a better place in greenhouse gas emissions than it was in 2005.

“I’m proud to say that we are closer than we’ve ever been to a breakthrough”, said Secretary of State John Kerry in the preface to the 2014 U.S. Climate Action Report. Citing a 6.5 drop in GHG emissions from 2005, Secretary Kerry said “President Obama’s Climate Action Plan will keep the US on track to reach our goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions [by] 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.”

Put another way: the US is now in a place where it can close the emissions gap with regulatory authority like power plant carbon rules, support for renewables, methane emissions rules, etc. The 17 percent goal is at least within sighting distance.

Here is what the mix of US primary energy sources and totals look like:

And more specifics on the drops and increases in US GHG emissions (full PDF here).

The drops:

  • Principally due to a shift from coal to natural gas, as well as rapidly growing deployment of renewable sources of energy, CO2 emissions from electricity generation decreased by 10 percent below 2005 levels in 2011.
  • From 2005 through 2011, transportation emissions dropped by 8 percent due, in part, to increased fuel efficiency across the U.S. vehicle fleet, as well as higher fuel prices, and an associated decrease in the demand for passenger transportation.
  • Emissions from industry have steadily declined since 2005 (11.2 percent), due to structural changes in the U.S. economy (e.g., shifts from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy), fuel switching, and efficiency improvements.
  • The residential and commercial end-use sectors accounted for 21 and 18 percent, respectively, of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in 2011, including each sector’s “indirect” emissions from electricity consumption. Both sectors relied heavily on electricity to meet energy demands; 71 and 77 percent, respectively, of residential and commercial emissions were attributable to electricity consumption for lighting, heating, cooling, and operating appliances. Emissions from the residential and commercial end-use sectors, including direct and indirect emissions from electricity consumption, have decreased by 7.3 percent and 6.5 percent since 2005, respectively.
  • Emissions from natural gas systems, the largest anthropogenic source of CH4 emissions, have decreased by 9 percent since 2005, due largely to a decrease in emissions from field production.
  • Land use, land use changes, and forests (LULUCF) activities in 2011 resulted in a net carbon sequestration of 905 Tg CO2e, which, in aggregate, offset 13.5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. Forest management practices, tree planting in urban areas, the management of agricultural soils, and growth in other carbon pools resulted in a net uptake (sequestration) of carbon in the United States.

The increases:

  • Agricultural soil management, mobile source fuel combustion, and stationary fuel combustion were the major sources of N2O emissions, which increased slightly from 2005 levels.
  • Emissions of substitutes for ozone-depleting substances and emissions of HFC-23 during the production of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC)-22 were the primary contributors to aggregate HFC emissions, which as a class of fluorinated gases increased by 12.2 percent since 2005. PFC emissions rose by 13 percent, resulting from semiconductor manufacturing and as a by-product of primary aluminum production.

And it shouldn’t go without mentioning how important it is to have the US’s climate plans and goals out there in public.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Chryses 6:39 pm 01/5/2014

    All in all, that’s Good News!

    Link to this
  2. 2. Jojomcjojo 7:48 pm 01/5/2014

    This illustrates the Second Law of Politics: Always take credit whenever anything good happens by coincidence. Take a wild guess what the First Law is.

    Link to this
  3. 3. sethdayal 12:40 am 01/6/2014

    Yet another Big Oil infomercial here at SCIAM. Keep those advertising dollars pouring in boys!!!

    As usual, the article begins with the basic dogma of Big Oil junk science, pushed by corrupt politicians in Big Oil’s Obama administration.

    “Principally due to a shift from coal to natural gas”
    ….. CO2 emissions from electricity generation decreased by 10 percent below 2005 levels in 2011″

    Real science peer reviewed and published in reputable journal has gas as a worse GHG producer than coal when the copious methane leaks from production to delivery are added in. An inconvenient truth for Big Oil’s Obama, who it seems has forbidden the EPA from including methane levels in its GHG statistics.

    From Harvard Google “study-methane-emissions-natural-gas-production”

    Link to this
  4. 4. sault 12:50 pm 01/6/2014

    seth, your abrasive tone turns people off and makes your argument harder to accept. Here, let me help you out by posting a link to a similar study like the one you mentioned:

    “We evaluate the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by high-volume hydraulic fracturing from shale formations, focusing on methane emissions. Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas.”

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5#

    And you are wrong to state that the EPA is forbidden from “including methane levels in its GHG statistics”:

    “For well completion flowbacks, which clear fractured wells of liquid to allow gas production, methane emissions ranged from 0.01 Mg to 17 Mg (mean = 1.7 Mg; 95% confidence bounds of 0.67–3.3 Mg), compared with an average of 81 Mg per event in the 2011 EPA national emission inventory from April 2013. Emission factors for pneumatic pumps and controllers as well as equipment leaks were both comparable to and higher than estimates in the national inventory. Overall, if emission factors from this work for completion flowbacks, equipment leaks, and pneumatic pumps and controllers are assumed to be representative of national populations and are used to estimate national emissions, total annual emissions from these source categories are calculated to be 957 Gg of methane (with sampling and measurement uncertainties estimated at ±200 Gg). The estimate for comparable source categories in the EPA national inventory is ∼1,200 Gg. Additional measurements of unloadings and workovers are needed to produce national emission estimates for these source categories. The 957 Gg in emissions for completion flowbacks, pneumatics, and equipment leaks, coupled with EPA national inventory estimates for other categories, leads to an estimated 2,300 Gg of methane emissions from natural gas production”

    http://www.pnas.org/content/110/44/17768.abstract

    While the EPA’s methane leakage estimates are way too low, they are still factored in.

    Link to this
  5. 5. sethdayal 2:30 pm 01/6/2014

    Sault, to put it kindly, your illiteracy is only one part of your many personality defects that turns people off.

    Actually, while the EPA makes only token effort at measuring methane emission, it doesn’t include methane in it’s overall GHG claims – makes them worthless.

    Link to this
  6. 6. sault 3:37 pm 01/6/2014

    seth, please read once again:

    “…81 Mg per event in the 2011 EPA national emission inventory from April 2013.”

    “The estimate for comparable source categories in the EPA national inventory is ∼1,200 Gg.”

    “…coupled with EPA national inventory estimates for other categories, leads to an estimated 2,300 Gg of methane emissions from natural gas production”

    Methane leaks ARE included. While the EPA underestimates them by a several factors, it does try to take stock of them. I’m only trying to help you out, buddy.

    Link to this
  7. 7. sault 3:43 pm 01/6/2014

    seth, I also need to find out your secret on how you NEVER draw fire from the resident climate deniers on this site when you talk about greenhouse gas emissions and the like. How do you do it? I mention the mere existence of climate change and I get a whole gang of deniers regurgitating fossil fuel company talking points all over the place. You use harsh language like this and you never get a drop of it on you. What’s your secret?

    Link to this
  8. 8. sethdayal 8:48 pm 01/6/2014

    The reason I don’t get dumped on by deniers is found in your first comment to me on this thread. You are I’m not.

    Like I have alway’s said – you are illiterate. The EPA guesses at methane leaks but doesn’t include them in the GHG count.

    Link to this
  9. 9. centromere 10:52 am 01/11/2014

    @7. sault

    “I also need to find out your secret on how you NEVER draw fire from the resident climate deniers on this site”

    By my count there are very few. What I read are posts from people who expect too much precision from Climate Science predictions. They expect Physics level precision, although the two are different disciplines.

    Link to this

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