Climate Change

US’ revised Clean Power Plan not ambitious enough

The final plan boasts of only a marginal difference in the amount of power generation-related emissions reduced until 2030

By Vijeta Rattani
Last Updated: Friday 07 August 2015
Credit: Leaflet CC BY-SA 3.0
Credit: Leaflet CC BY-SA 3.0 Credit: Leaflet CC BY-SA 3.0

The 2014 version of the US’ Clean Power Plan had proposed to cut carbon pollution of the power sector by 30 per cent by 2030. Compared with last year’s proposal, the revised and final Clean Power Plan aims to cut over 70 million tonnes more, which is 32 per cent below 2005 levels.

This marginal increase of 2 per cent is being hailed as the “game changer” by the US government. US President Barack Obama has called it "the biggest, most important step we have ever taken" to tackle climate change.

The plan is expected to help consumers save nearly US $85 a year on their energy bills in 2030. It is also billed to save enough energy to power 30 million homes, prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and lead to 30 per cent more renewable energy generation by 2030. The public health and climate benefits of the plan are estimated at $34 billion to $54 billion per year by 2030, outweighing its cost at $8.4 billion.

Ensuring compliance will be challenge

The plan relies on federal state partnership under which US states are expected to come up with their own plans and targets by September 2016 and are required to comply with the rules only by 2022. It would be challenging for the Obama administration to ensure compliance. Coal-dependent states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and Indiana are vehemently opposing the plan because they fear it will cause a huge setback to their economies.

But the most important question remains: is the plan really ambitious? Is it enough action on the part of the US?

Pollution by power generation

The power sector is the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, the sector accounted for about 32 per cent of the total emissions of the country. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity have increased by about 11 per cent since 1990 due to the increase in demand for electricity and dependence on fossil fuels for power generation.

According to British Petroleum (BP) statistics and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, the usage of coal has increased by 4.6 per cent in 2013 at 456 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe). In 2014, it rose again by 1.2 per cent.

It is evident that the US has not made enough efforts to cut coal consumption, in general and for power generation in particular.

The US plan does not talk about mechanisms for improved efficiency of power plants. Heat on Power (2015), a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) publication, states that the percentage efficiency of coal-based power plants in the US is 36 per cent, less than that of the UK (38 per cent) and Nordic countries and Japan (41 per cent).

With lifestyles often driven by excess consumption, the US must also focus on solutions to transport emissions and wastage.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) of the US already include a weak economy-wide emission reduction of 26-28 per cent by 2025, relative to 2005 emission levels which is equivalent to only 14–17 per cent below 1990 levels.

The US is historically the world’s largest polluter and is responsible for 21 per cent of total global emissions from 1850-2011. The EU-28 has contributed to 18 per cent, China 11 per cent and Japan and India are responsible for 3 per cent each of the global contributions to historical emissions, according to a CSE factsheet on Global Carbon Budget 2014.

Thus, while evidence shows that the US must shoulder the maximum responsibility for harmful impacts on the climate, the country’s Clean Power Plan is actually only a small step towards curbing carbon pollution.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in a 2014 report, states that in order to restrict global warming to 2°C, the amount of emissions in 2030 should be between 46 to 48 GtCO2 equivalent. However, the Stern Report 2015 says that the emission reduction commitments of countries will result in around 59 GtCO2 equivalent of global emissions by that year, causing the world to miss the 2°C target.

As the biggest historical polluter and the country most capable of mitigating climate change, the US is expected to lead the efforts to prevent catastrophic impacts of climate change on our planet.

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  • US should go in for offshore wind farms on a massive scale.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    Posted by: Anumakonda Jagadeesh | 4 years ago | Reply
  • Namaskar,
    “Carbon Dioxide v Pollution” --- “Global Warming v Climate Change”
    In the context of Climate Change, India needs to give top priority to control pollution mechanism and not Carbon Dioxide associated with fossil fuel use in the global warming context. Why? Let us see this:
    Carbon Dioxide is looked at Global warming component of Climate Change. India is affected by natural variations present in climate change – in the past, at present and in future. The extremes in rainfall and temperature are part of this phenomenon. This is not in our hands and thus we have to adapt to them. Our forefathers did this in agriculture and water resources use. With new agriculture technologies, we lost this and thus drought conditions are amplified.
    Now with the growth of population and infrastructure development under new technological innovations/revolutions along with urbanization we introduced another aspect to climate change. This not only affects the natural variability but also creates a trend in climate parameters – this is known as ecological changes associated with land use and land cover changes. This has been affecting not only climate but also intensification of natural disasters impact on nature and life forms. An official from Asian Development Bank presented a lecture at State Bank of India staff College in Hyderabad. The title of his presentation relates to natural disasters “intensification of destruction” by climate change. He presented around 40 slides. All his slides clearly show that it is not the climate change but it is human actions to meet his greed on nature that helped increased levels of destruction with natural calamities -- In fact this was seen at J & K and Uttarakhand devastations associated with the floods. It has become a common knowledge that to attract the audience they invariably use the word climate change. Many a time climate change is used as defacto global warming.
    Groups argue that global warming is a settled science and yet they go on changing the factors in the basic equation that relates temperature change with CO2 change. If global warming is settled science then why the sensitivity factor in the basic equation is monotonically declining from SAR to AR5? Why, IPCC decreased feedback sum sensitivity factor from AR4 to AR5? All these say one thing that IPCC was not sure on what is the correct sensitivity factor that relates the anthropogenic greenhouse gases increase in atmosphere to temperature rise. So they are following trial and error method and not physical process path. Because of this, it can be seen from AR5 that “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together. The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period”. They all are qualitative inferences but we need an answer in quantitative terms to postulate the associated impact on glaciers retreat, ice sheet melt, ocean rise, extremes rainfall and temperature, etc.
    The global temperature curve shows a hiatus for the last around 19 years. Instead of looking this as a part of natural cycle, people started telling the temperature is hidden in the Ocean and now NOAA manipulated the data to erase the hiatus. All this was carried out with the COP 21 meet at Paris and as to get weightage to collect 100 billion dollars. Though observed temperature data covers 20-25% of the area of the globe, and the rest is estimated through back door methods, interpolation and extrapolation from such data series. We got satellite and balloon data but they are also tried to manipulate. The original data shows a trend of 0.25 oC from 1951 to date. Around half of this is global warming component as per AR5 but in qualitative terms only.
    Historical sea temperature shows a relationship with the changes in atmosphere carbon dioxide – when temperature raises the Oceans releases carbon dioxide and when temperature cools the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the Oceans. Also, USA average measured temperature present a 60-year cycle since 1920 with no trend but the same data as reported by NOAA presents not only cyclic variation but also trend. So, the trend is a manipulated pattern. We need virgin data to prove whether there is a trend; and if it is there, what are the factors causing such trend. Like this there are so many localized issues that need detailed studies. This must be done by meteorologists with the global knowledge.

    With the USA President’s emission cut proposal, EPA [Environmental Protection Agency of USA] Administrator Gina McCathey admitted that the steps being taken would only prevent 0.01 oC of warming for a reduction of 34% over 2005 by 2030. All these mean the hiatus seen in the last nearly 19 years is correct to the core and the data manipulation to show there is no hiatus in global temperature pattern by the agencies is erroneous and illogical. Scientists must look in to these and come up a correct forecast on the future temperature and impacts on nature. However, all these support my postulation that “The temperature v CO2 curve reached a plateau for energy windows of CO2” – energy window is limited and not unlimited in nature. Water vapour energy windows cause maximum variations with seasons and years. Advection plays major role in temperature extremes like cold waves and heat waves depending upon the seasons and general circulation patterns. Local temperatures may go up with ecological changes but with reference global warming there is no chance that it will cross 0.2 oC by 2100. In view of these the Government of India should put forth at the coming Paris COP 21 meet in December 2015 and at the same time take action to implement them in India.
     UN must instead of wasting public fund on global warming, look in to pollution [air, water, soil & food] and food adulteration that is affecting billions of people globally;
     UN must give more emphasis on discouraging urban growth and related infrastructure development – the latest survey results of Swachh Bharat ratings of municipal areas [total 476] shows the conditions in urban India, “how filthy they are”;
     UN must give more emphasis on discouraging the developmental activities along the coastal zones and instead encourage the focused development in greenery along the coastal zones that protects from the fury of tidal waves;
     UN must give more emphasis on discouraging the chemical input - GMO agriculture technology -- more than 30% of food produced is going as waste -- and instead encourage organic traditional system of agriculture.
    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
    Formerly Chief Technical Advisor – WMO/UN & Expert – FAO/UN
    Fellow, Andhra Pradesh Akademy of Sciences
    Convenor, Forum for a Sustainable Environment
    E-mail:; Tel Hyderabad (040) 23550480

    Posted by: Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy | 4 years ago | Reply