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Buried in @WhiteHouse staff report: Energy Information Administration planning for a 6C future

June 1st, 2014 · 4 Comments

The White House release a report yesterday heralding the All of the Above energy policy.  EntitledThe All-Of-The-Above Energy Strategy as a Path to Sustainable Economic Growth,” the document seeks to bask in expanded US oil and natural gas production while asserting that policies for energy efficiency and renewable energy are setting the stage for sustainability into the future.

Weirdly, while spending many pages detailing how the Energy Information Administration (EIA) failed to predict accurately fossil fuel trends, the report’s authors failed to highlight that the real-world performance of renewable energy (notably wind and solar) has greatly outperformed baseline forecasts.  With the President’s call for more solar energy, highlighting that renewables have been doing so well (in price reductions and speed of market penetration) would seem something strongly support of Administration objectives rather than for something to be ignored in a 42-page White House report.

In a not minor way, therefore, the report seems glaringly at odds with President Obama’s focus and Administration activity in yet another arena: climate change and climate mitigation objectives.  With the President speaking more forcefully on climate change, the recent issuance of the National Climate Assessment, and the soon to be published Environmental Protection Agency rules on coal plant emissions, the report fails to address whether or not “All of the Above” energy policy implications align with climate policy objectives.

Simply, the declarative U.S. policy can be summarized as targeting global warming as remaining below a two degree centigrade (2C) warming above pre-industrial areas.

Figure 4-1 on page 32 is a reproduction of an EIA chart of energy-related carbon emissions. As with fossil fuels, this graphic shows a dramatic decline in emissions compared to what was forecast. In 2005, as you can see to the right, the EIA forecast essentially a steady upward path for US emissions. 2013 emissions were, in fact, roughly 30 percent lower than what EIA predicted just eight years earlier.  And, the 2014 projection is essentially a flatline stability from now into the future.

The baseline path is computed using a combination of historical trends and published forecasts as of 2005. Relative to this baseline, slightly more than half of the decline is due to slower growth than projected in 2005, that is, because of the decline in economic activity as a result of the Great Recession. Slightly less than half the reduction is due to cleaner energy, primarily the reduction in electricity generated by coal and the increase in cleaner natural gas and zero-emissions wind and solar generation. Improvements in energy efficiency made a small contribution: although economy-wide efficiency improved over this period, it improved only slightly faster than the rate projected by the Energy Information Administration in 2005.

The EIA got the ghg emissions path as wrong as it did the fossil fuel projects.  However, with all the focus on climate-change issues (and tomorrow’s projected release of EPA carbon rules for power plants), this issue is buried on page 32 without a serious discussion as to the implications.

The 2005 forecast pointed to roughly 8 billion tons of emissions in 2030 while the 2014 projection is for under 5.5.  That is good news … perhaps.  With the ‘flat line, those energy related emissions are roughly projected to be 5.5 billion metric tons in 2040.

A simple question to ask.  Is this anything close to what is required?

The International Energy Agency recently released a report that models what is required globally and within individual countries to meet temperature targets of 2C, 4C, and 6C.  There is a very interesting graphical interface that enables looking at the IEA work from a number of angles.  Click on the “emissions reductions” and then “United States”, we can then see where the IEA projects the United States has to go as part of a global emissions profile for a 2 degree, 4 degree, or 6 degree centigrade temperature increase. As a reminder, the globally ‘accepted’ target by the international community:  2 degree temperature increase from levels prior to the industrial revolution.  From the IEA work, the US emissions have to be below 2B tons by 2040 and down to 1.1 by 2050 for some confidence of a 2 degree path.  The EIA’s 5.5B ton emission path?  That is right in line with 6 degrees.

At 1 degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A 3-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland’s ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A 6-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity.

And, the EIA’s baseline case projection of US emissions assumes a 6 degree increase.  In technical terms, OH SHIT!

Thus, returning to the simple question, a simple answer: No, this is not close to what is required.

The White House staff evidently recognizes this issue. From the report:

This analysis of the recent reduction in emissions shows that while progress has been made, much more remains to be done.

But that is it … no serious acknowledgment that the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration’s baseline scenario assumes a 6 degree C future or, as some more expert than I might put it, utterly catastrophic climate chaos.

Should climate catastrophe catastrophe be our baseline scenario?

Shouldn’t this issue merit more serious examination.

One might wonder whether it wasn’t examined because such an examination might have led to a troubling conclusion: that an “All of the Above” energy policy does not conform to a policy that provides a reasonable path to a 2C future.

NOTE:  And, if the EIA’s projections on fossil fuels, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas emissions have proven so off from the past, shouldn’t the Administration take a serious look at why this is the case and what might be possible to either the forecasting structure. In government and industry, the EIA data and forecasts are taken as ‘gospel’ and serve to undermine investment decisions with decades-long implications. If the projections cannot, on a regular basis, be reliably counted on for projections, how can and should we restructure the reporting to better inform decision-making requirements both within government and outside it?

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Tags: climate change · Energy · energy information administration · environmental · Global Warming · Obama Administration

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Meteor Blades // Jun 1, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    As I thought when I was first pointed toward that 5.5 billion metric tons graph flatline: Yikes and a half.

  • 2 Arnoud // Jun 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    First seeing tonight’s last episode of Cosmos, then reading this… Wow!!!

    Obama seems to have the perfect opportunity to announce a pivotal Apollo-like ambition where US leads the world towards 50% renewables within 10 years (it has to be ambitions and it has to be a short enough timeframe to start big changes now).

    Otherwise, it’s evidentially end of most life, including human… How can any president (in any country) NOT make such a call, knowing what is facing us. And, yes, despite the big oil lobby…

    And we, the people, need to demand nothing less!

  • 3 John Egan // Jun 5, 2014 at 11:43 am

    “Otherwise, it’s evidentially end of most life, including human…”

    Guess what, I would agree that this seems like over reach by that author — even the mass Sixth Extinction seems unlikely to eliminate “most life” even it might drive to (or near) extinction most species that we care about.

    The extreme eschatology of climate changers is amusing. I do acknowledge, however, that most people and most societies throughout history have had to have some eschatological doom overhanging them – the Aztec, the Nordics, and of course Judeo-Christians.

    So it is only to be expected that this is transmuted into climate eschatology – especially among those who have few traditional religious leanings. But I am forced to ask – – How did life survive previous warm eras? The Holocene maximum when the tree line was clearly hundreds of miles north of where it is today and reindeer inhabited Franz Josef Land. Or the Eemian maximum which may have been warmer still?

    Neither Holocene maximum nor Eemian maximum are assessed to be anything close to 6C hotter.

    As well, there is the issue of global vs regional.

    Stop spouting out climate science denial talking points.

    I would like to laugh, except that such an eschatology has paralyzed the left into inaction, at best, and green reactionism with reference to working people. Thus, one should not be surprised at the growth of the Tea Party movement in the U.S. and the even greater growth of far-right populism in Europe – the Front National, UKIP, the Sweden Democrats, etc., etc.

    May I get back to you after the November midterms??

    Do you enjoy blaming those concerned about climate for every reactionary political win in the world?

  • 4 John Egan // Jun 8, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Do you enjoy ignoring the basic materialist link to popular political response in your quixotic adventures in climatism?

    Granted climate-related costs are only one factor in the rise of political reactionism worldwide – along with globalization, immigration, and bureaucratization – but they are a major tangible manifestation to working people facing unemployment and wage stagnation when their electricity bills quadruple.

    Whether the Dems can control the U.S. Senate in 2014 is an arguable point, but KXL and the recent EPA regs have practically guaranteed its loss. All your arguments notwithstanding, a GOP Senate isn’t about to give you what you want.

    P.S. Your petty use of “denier” and “denial” indicates the narrowness of your mindset.

    You have the audacity to complain about words with your frequent attack language? And, your attempt to sling with what you see as attack language (“climatism” — yet again using a term from denier subculture is revealing).

    In any event, “denier” and “denial” when it comes to science have valid meaning. What do you prefer “rejector of scientific knowledge”?