How the Obama Administration Plans to Fight Climate Change
President Obama is dead serious about Climate Change. And he is making sure the message is getting out. He declares that climate change is real (which somehow still needs to be clarified in the US) and that it will affect America’s – and the world’s – economy, health and security. “It’s not a problem for another generation. Not any more”, he says.
In fighting it, therefore, he has unveiled a road to action called the Clean Power Plan. The Plan aims for an overall reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of US power plants by 32% by 2030, as compared to emission levels in 2005.
The target is impressive, and the plan itself gives the US the moral ground to call for emissions reductions by other heavily polluting countries such as China, Australia and India.
The Obama Clean Power Plan Deconstructed
There are three key “building blocks” to the Plan:
Building Block 1: Improving the Operational Efficiency of Existing Coal Fired Power Plants
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – a US federal agency created to protect the environment and human health – has calculated that with interventions such as improving boiler operations and optimizing cooling systems, existing coal fired power plants in the US could boost their operational efficiency by as much as 2.1 – 4.3%. Doing so would ensure a significant drop in their carbon emissions.
Building Block 2: Switch From Coal Fired to Gas Fired Power Plants
A typical thermal power plant in the US emits 2,160 pounds (980 kg) of CO2 per MWh, while emissions of gas-fired plant is less than half, with 894 pounds (405.5 kg). Therefore, the government is pushing for a coal-to-gas-switch in 47 states identified within the Clean Power Plan. It’s 47 states, because Washington D.C. and Vermont do not have any thermal power plants, while the grids in Alaska and Hawaii pose their own unique challenges, which will be dealt with eventually.
Building Block 3: Increase the Share of Renewables
US states will have to increase the share of renewable energy in their power generation mix. This means an additional fillip for the already burgeoning energy generation from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy, given that recently, 98% of all new energy capacity addition in the US was from renewable energy resources.
Unofficially, there is also the fourth building block – that of carbon taxes to limit the amount of carbon pollution power plants can dump into the air. Furthermore, states could create a new or join an existing cap-and-trade system, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) for the Northeastern United States.
Will States Agree To the Clean Power Plan?
However, several US states derive a huge chunk of their electricity from coal fired power plants – including Wyoming (88%), Kentucky (93%) and West Virginia (95%).
They are therefore not happy with what they term as Obama’s “war on coal”. In fact, many have threatened to simply ignore the carbon reduction targets, in which case it will be up to the courts to decide the extent to which these states must comply with the Clean Power Plan.
However, such issues notwithstanding, the Clean Power Plan is a bold plan for the second largest carbon emitter on the planet (after China). And it could serve as a cornerstone for inking a globally binding treaty on climate change, which will hopefully be the outcome of the discussions at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.