Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coal Use and CO2 Emissions Projected to Rise By More Than 50% By 2035

Dave Rochlin - www.climatepath.org

The world's hunger for energy is insatiable, according to the most recent Energy Outlook published by The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

And if nothing changes, this will lead to an increase in coal consumption from 132 quadrillion Btu in 2007 to 206 quadrillion Btu in 2035, most of which will come from growth in India and China. As a result, annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions could rise from 29.7 billion metric tons in 2007 to 42.4 billion metric tons in 2035.

Things are generally flat in the OECD countries, as they move from manufacturing to service based economies, and focus on efficiency rather than growth in their transportation sectors. But as manufacturers locate factories in developing countries where wages are cheapest, and those wage earners increase their standard of living, the countries least equipped to invest in renewable energy and public infrastructure will be the most active in growing their energy and fuel use. So the EIA projects plenty of additional coal and oil consumption.

Policymakers refer to this as an issue of energy intensity of the economy (how much energy is used for every dollar of GDP) and carbon intensity of energy (the sources used to produce the energy.) Most of the projected growth is in countries with high energy and carbon intensity.

This good news is that this scenario is based on the reference case—which assumes that current laws and policies remain unchanged throughout the projection period. There seem to growing public and political will to make some changes. But while China and India have floated the idea of cutting their emissions intensity in half as a percent of GDP (primarily through improved energy intensity) growth in their economies and only small reductions in the carbon intensity of the energy will overrun these reductions. Before we start finger pointing, however, keep in mind that exports to the US and other OECD countries have been powering China's industrial growth.

In any case, the reference scenario is quite scary, and we have to do much better. A healthy dose of conservation and alternative/renewable energy is needed, both in OECD and non-OECD countries. This means supporting a strong and effective energy and climate bill in the US, and the completion of the UN climate work that was started in Copenhagen. It's going to take a global solution to tackle this problem.

Chart by U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) from The International Energy Outlook 2010.

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