Rhein on Energy and Climate

The USA is getting serious with tackling climate change. Just in time for the next International Climate Conference in November in Warsaw, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed strict emission standards for new power. To meet these standards, power plants will have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% to roughly 500g C02/kWh.

This constitutes a blow for the US coal power sector. With existing technologies it will not able to comply with the new standards. Utilities will therefore have to invest in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which is not perfected and costly, or switch to gas and renewable energies which they have already been doing increasingly.

Phasing out coal will be welcome, as it is responsible for more than 30% of US energy-related CO2 emissions!

By 1 June 2014, EPA will also make proposals for existing power plants that will most likely lead to the medium-term closure of all plants that do not comply with the emission standards of newly built plants.

President Obama wants the process of standard setting to be completed by 2017, when he leaves office. As he has chosen to operate through the EPA, he is most likely to succeed.

We can therefore look forward to a substantial decline of US greenhouse gas emissions – say, by at least one third – in the coming two decades. This is the result of declining power demand, lower emissions and a massive increase of fuel efficiency in transport.

President Obama will enter history as the political leader who has dodged big business and strong conservative forces in his fight against climate change.

He has been assisted by increasingly visible health hazards and climate catastrophes (droughts, wild fires, floods and hurricanes) in recent years, causing US citizens billions of dollar damage.

By finally embracing an active climate policy stance, after two decades of US denial and obstruction, president Obama will also have helped pave the way towards a comprehensive international climate agreement due to be concluded in 2015 and enter into force by 2020.

Today the chances for such an agreement have become better than ever, since humanity has set out to address this issue two decades ago.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 22/9/2013

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