Seth Whitehead | Energy in Depth | February 26, 2018
A new analysis by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) finds that the United States has already met the Clean Power Plan’s (CPP) 2025 carbon emission reduction targets “primarily due to natural gas prices and market forces,” according to co-author and CMU professor Paul Fischbeck.
Based on an evaluation of the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, the analysis finds that U.S. power plant carbon emissions declined just under 30 percent — from 2.7 billion tons to 1.9 billion tons — from 2005 to 2017. Not only has the U.S. exceeded the CPP’s 2020 carbon reduction targets and met its 2025 targets, the U.S. is also closing in on the CPP’s 32 percent reduction target by 2030, which is notable, considering the Obama-era CPP never went into effect. From the analysis:
“To be sure, while other factors (such as renewable energy incentives) also had an impact, the clearest means by which to reduce CO2 emissions has been to reduce the cost of generating electricity with less CO2-emitting fuels (i.e., substituting natural gas for coal). So successful have market forces been under the existing regulatory framework to date that estimated 2017 CO2 emission levels are already at the CPP’s 2025 target…”
Published last week in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology, the analysis also notes that continued low natural gas prices could “put the country on the path to meeting the long-term goals” of the Paris Climate Accords, even though the Trump administration plans to formally withdraw from the agreement in the near future.
This is a conclusion shared by United Nations Energy Programme chief Erik Solheim, who recent said, “In all likelihood, the United States of America will live up to its Paris commitment, not because of the White House, but because of the private sector.”
The CMU analysis does emphasize that continued low natural gas prices will be essential for the downward GHG emission trajectory observed over the past 12 years to continue. That said, analysis co-author David Rode emphasized that the “path to compliance can be a collection of politically feasible, minimally invasive actions – if we plan ahead and start now.”
The analysis is just the latest evidence that natural gas can be credited for a large share of the overall 14 percent decrease in energy-related U.S. carbon reductions since 2005.
The EIA credits almost two-thirds of the decline to switching to natural gas for electricity generation.
Notably, at the same time the U.S. has achieved these reductions, global emissions have increased 21 percent.
As this CMU analysis further confirms, natural gas has not only spearheaded U.S. carbon reductions over the past 12 years, but will be key to continuing reductions in the future — underscoring the importance of allowing the responsible development of our domestic energy sources to continue.