How to Reduce Emissions

In his most recent Washington Post column Fareed Zakaria proposes something sensible:

A serious energy strategy would recognize that the most important task is to reduce carbon emissions fast. In the short term, the simplest way to do this is to move from coal to natural gas, which cuts carbon emissions almost by half. In fact, most of the reduction in the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2019 was because of the switch from coal to gas, with coal being the biggest producer of carbon dioxide emissions of the three main fossil fuels.

But there is even lower-hanging fruit. The journal Environmental Research Letters did a study of more than 29,000 fossil-fuel power plants worldwide and found that just 5 percent of them were responsible for 73 percent of global emissions from electricity. We could easily pay to convert those roughly 1,400 plants and reap a huge windfall in the reduction of carbon emissions. And the International Energy Agency estimates that over 70 percent of the methane leakage from oil and gas production can be stopped by using existing technologies.

That’s a strategy recognizeable to anyone familiar with the process of optimization: optimize first where there are the most benefits from optimization. How much could be achieved by doing that? According to the study he cites 25% of all emissions in power generation. Here’s a map of the top emitters:

Those red lines are the worst of the worst. Where are they? Poland, India, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Germany, Japan. We have our own major emitters, too, but none in the top ten. That list has remained remarkably stable over the last decade.

There’s another interesting table in the linked source which the authors refer to as “Gini coefficients for disproportionality in plant-level CO2 emissions for the ten nations with the highest CO2 emissions”. Translation: how much worse are the worst emitters in a given country as compared with the best. As should be surprising to no one the top countries in that list are China, the U. S., India, Japan, Russia. In other words as a matter of policy our near term strategy should consist of

  1. Producing more natural gas.
  2. Either shutting down the power generation facilities here in the U. S. that produce the most emissions or converting them to natural gas.
  3. Reduce imports from countries that aren’t modernizing their energy production. Tariffs are one way of doing that.
0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment