One simple act could meet US Paris Climate Agreement goals: Dump coal

  • Published on March 11th, 2019

A study by the physics, economics, and system science departments at Portland State University claims the United States could meet its commitments to other nations agreed to in Paris in 2015 simply by eliminating coal as a source of electrical energy by 2024. The study appears in the March issue of the journal Applied Energy.

dirty coal mining


The US and China are responsible for about 40% of all global carbon emissions. Shutting down coal-fired generating stations, transitioning to electric vehicles, and using electricity more efficiently would have the greatest impact on those emissions from both countries the researchers say.

The authors claim the US could make up for the loss of its coal generating stations by building 12 new nuclear power facilities, but go on to say the nuclear option can be sidestepped by ramping up the use of renewables as well as natural gas and biofuel generating plants for very little extra investment. “Given the concerns and controversy surrounding nuclear power, this is significant,” said PSU Economics Professor Randall Bluffstone, one of the co-authors of the study. However, the authors overlook the fact that siting and permitting for a new nuclear power plant generally take about 12 years on average in the United States.

The researchers say eliminating coal as an energy source is the most significant step the US could take to meet its emissions target. but it would need to shift its energy strategy to one based on natural gas, efficiency, wind, solar power, and biofuels, with oil used predominately as a transportation fuel. “The declining costs of both natural gas and renewables is already displacing significant amounts of coal-fired generation,” Professor Bluffstone says.

According to Science Daily, John Anasis, the paper’s lead author, says the research shows a strong push towards energy efficiency and the adoption of electric vehicles would be one of the most cost effective strategies available for meeting the emissions targets the United States agreed to in the Paris accords.

Of course, in the toxic political environment in America at present, where the Environmental Protection Agency is headed by an avowed coal advocate, none of these suggestions have a snowball’s chance in hell of being put into practice. The only hope is that economic considerations take precedence over political rhetoric, something that actually seems to be happening in some areas as the cost of renewables continues to decline.

(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.