CLIMATE WIRE | The latest United Nations climate assessment has upped the ante on energy policy in the United States, making it clear that rich countries need to cut emissions deeper than some of the more ambitious goals.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has introduced a new deadline that the world must meet to avoid the most catastrophic climate impacts. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, he found that global greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 60% by 2035 from 2019 levels (climate wireMarch 20th).
This translates to a 67% reduction in emissions by 2035 compared to 2005, the year the United States uses as a benchmark. Even if the country were to meet the Biden administration’s goal of reducing emissions by 50-52% by 2030, it would still have a long way to go in five years to achieve a 67% reduction.
“It’s extremely difficult,” said Robbie Orvis, senior director of modeling and analytics at Energy Innovation.
One of the reasons is what he called “social capital turnover”. The Biden administration’s goal is to get people or businesses to switch to more efficient or cleaner models when their old equipment needs to be replaced. The Cut Inflation Act provides incentives for such upgrades – whether to cars or coal-fired power plants – and upcoming regulations will likely spur the switchover as well.
This gradual change, however, may not be fast enough for the IPCC objective.
“To reach a goal of 60% below 2019 by 2035, you need to start getting equipment replaced before it reaches the end of its useful life,” Orvis said. “And that is, from a political point of view and from an economic point of view, much more difficult.”
A report released last week by the US Energy Information Administration, which provides energy statistics to the government, suggests the United States may be falling behind on its 2030 commitment to the Paris Agreement. And after 2030, the fruits at hand – like switching to electric cars and replacing gas heaters – will have been picked, leaving the hardest-to-decarbonise sectors.
It’s a challenge that climate scientists around the world say must be overcome to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Also on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on rich countries to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2040, 10 years earlier than the net zero goal. set by the United States and many other developed countries.
Scientists say the 1.5C temperature goal is predicated on a net zero world by 2050, but major developing players including China and India have only pledged to stop emitting only decades later.
It’s been nearly two years since President Joe Biden promised the world that the United States would reduce emissions by 50-52% by 2030 from 2005 levels.
Since making that pledge at an Earth Day summit in 2021, Congress has passed a major climate spending bill, and the EPA has begun its regulatory campaign to cut pollution from sectors. such as electricity, oil and gas.
But indicators continue to show that the United States is not yet on track to meet Biden’s 2030 pledge.
Last week, the EIA published its Annual Energy Outlook for 2023. The outlook projected future energy trends and emissions out to 2050, based on policies in place as of last November. This included the Cut Inflation Act, which includes $369 billion in climate investments.
Even so, the EIA predicted that US energy-related carbon emissions would decline only 25-38% by 2030 from 2005 levels, well below the 50% mark. .
The analysis does not include greenhouse gases and sinks other than CO2 and is limited to emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. It also does not take into account future regulations, state policies or even some Inflation Reduction Act programs.
Experts also say the EIA relies on some pessimistic assumptions in its outlook, particularly regarding how quickly Americans will swap their gas-powered cars for electric vehicles in response to new incentives and targets from several states. keys. Analytics firms including Energy Innovation have estimated that the Cut Inflation Act puts the United States within reach of a 40% cut in emissions by 2030.
But the EIA report is a warning sign, covering the sectors whose emissions will determine the success or failure of the 2030 target. It also shows that emissions reductions run out after 2030 – when the United States would need to see even greater reductions to meet the IPCC recommendation for dramatic reductions by 2035 and 2040.
The incentives of the Cut Inflation Act will also begin to fade in early 2030, just when some of the easiest and least costly opportunities to green the U.S. economy need to be realized.
“The fruit at hand is kind of in the electricity business,” said Orvis of Energy Innovation. While electric vehicles, heat pumps or other investments that promise to bend the emissions curve for other sectors are profitable, getting people to replace equipment that is still working is difficult and requires aggressive policy, did he declare.
“Your real constraint becomes how long and how quickly you have to decarbonize,” he said.
The EIA outlook shows that electricity sector emissions will drop 15% between 2022 and 2025, from about 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to about 1.3 billion metric tons. By 2030, those emissions could drop 63% from 2022, to 782 million metric tons, according to the EIA.
But after 2030, these reductions slow down. Emissions from the electricity sector fall by 8% between 2030 and 2035 to 723 million metric tons, then by 10% by 2040 to 707 million metric tons.
The electricity sector is a beacon of hope in the EIA’s analysis. The outlook projects that industrial emissions will decline in this decade, but will rebound in 2031 and trend upwards through most of the 2030s and 2040s. Industrial emissions in 2050 would be only about 4% lower than their 2022 levels.
The EIA outlook does not attempt to predict what policies may be in place in the future and may continue to bend the curve.
“I think the hopeful question is whether a decade of incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act is accelerating the rate of change in the United States in a way that makes scientific goals like this possible. here,” said John Coequyt, director of US government affairs at RMI, referring to the aims of the IPCC report.
While a 67% cut in emissions by 2035 is “very aggressive”, he said, “things are starting to change faster than people thought”.
Reprinted from E&E news courtesy of POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.