Kyoto Revisited – President Obama’s Pledge For Paris (Part One)

Posted on Fri 04/17/2015 by



TonyfromOzProfileImageBy Anton Lang ~

For the seven years I have been contributing at this site, I have concentrated on explaining why renewable power just cannot replace coal fired power as a source of constant, regular, and reliable electricity.

So then, would a plan to remove almost a third of all coal fired power generation with nothing to replace it with sound like a rational option to take? While only around a third of coal fired power, this amounts to almost 10.5% of the total U.S. electrical power generation. At a time when U.S. power consumption is increasing, a plan to do this seems like a pretty extreme thing to do.

logocop21-ppalRecently, President Obama flagged that he will present his Emissions Reduction pledge to the upcoming UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Paris. The UNFCCC is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and this will be COP21, their 21st Conference since they started having them in 1995.

That level of Greenhouse Gas Reduction he has promised will be a 26% to 28% reduction on what the levels were in 2005.

Just how much of a reduction is that figure of 28%, can this percentage reduction be calculated to explain what is required, and is it achievable?

However, probably a more important question to ask here is why is the U.S. committing to such a large figure when China has categorically said that it will not even reach its peak emissions until 2030, and maybe then, it will consider reducing its emissions.

So, any reduction which the U.S. commits to will be completely and utterly negated by what China is (not) doing, and in fact China’s emissions will be increasing by much more than the U.S. reduction, and by a figure so large as to make this U.S. 28% reduction seem inconsequential.


So then, why is this pledge from President Obama a revisiting of what the Kyoto Protocol originally required of the U.S. when the Kyoto Protocol was mandated back at the UNFCCC climate change conference, COP 3 held at Kyoto in 1997.

Look at this image of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Gas. While it shows just the major gases, that total is an overall CO2 Equivalent. While the image is sized to fit this page, if you click on the image it will open on a new page and in a larger size for easier viewing.



Click on the image and it will open on a new page in a larger size for easier viewing.

This is taken from just one document from the U.S. EPA Draft Inventory Of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions And Sinks: 1990-2013. (shown at this link) Now, while this data only shows information to (end of year) 2013, you’ll see that this is the most current information available, as it is dated February 2015. This actual image is taken from just one of many of those documents, this one titled Trends In Greenhouse Gas Emissions. (a pdf document of 34 pages at this link)

The total emissions in 1990 came in at 6,299MMT, and MMT stands for Million Metric Tons, so that’s almost 6.3 BILLION metric tons of (CO2 equivalent) greenhouse gas. Note the total in 2005, which is the start year for the President’s reduction pledge. That total in 2005 was 7,368MMT. That’s a tick under 17% higher than they were in 1990. This pledge of a 28% reduction on those 2005 levels means that the target for the year 2025 is 5,305 MMT. (which is 72% of 7,368MMT, the 2005 level) From the chart above you can see that the U.S. has already achieved an 8.5% reduction by the end of year 2013. Note that the new target of 5,305MMT, that 28% reduction is lower than the 1990 level, and in fact is 16% lower than they were in 1990, so the President is aiming for a target considerably greater than what was called for by Kyoto.

So, how did that original Kyoto Protocol go when it was first mandated. It was under the Clinton Administration, with Al Gore as his Vice President when that happened. They did not even bother to present the bill to Congress after The Senate voted not to ratify the Protocol. Now you might think that the Clinton presidency might have been restricted by a Republican dominated Senate, but the vote in The Senate to NOT ratify the Kyoto Protocol was in fact 95-0, and read that again. Not one Senator supported it, so it was a dead duck from the start.

Now President Obama is aiming even further than that, but what does that mean when it comes to the generation of electrical power?


Seven years ago in late March of 2008, I started to contribute at this site. One of the first things I started was a series on what it would take to comply with what the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol demanded, a reduction in CO2 emissions to a level 5% lower than what those emissions were in 1990. In that series of more than 50 separate Posts, I explored the ways to replace coal fired power, which is the source of around 40% of all those CO2 emissions. This necessitated the reduction in power generation from those coal fired power plants by more than one third. (That did not mean closing one third of the number of plants, but reducing the total power generated by them by more than a third, and while this sounds like the same thing, they are two different things altogether.)

Since that time, (based on December 2007 data)  the power generated by those coal fired plants has in fact reduced, and reduced by almost 20%. However, while that coal fired sector has reduced its generation, it has been replaced pretty much by Natural Gas fired power plants, and there is a good reason for that.

When I started this in 2008, the average age for ALL the coal fired plants in the U.S. was just over 49 years, and consider here that the expected whole of life time span for a coal fired plant is 50 years. So this meant that a large number of plants were indeed quite older than 50 years. Those old, and in some cases ancient plants, some up beyond 70 years old, were the older technology plants, most of them small plants with single units of only 20MW Capacity, most of them in fact less than 10MW. These plants and other older plants were kept in service to provide power only on an as needed basis. The larger plants (2000MW and higher) provided the bulk of the power, that power required absolutely for 24 hours of every day all year round, and those smaller plants were just brought on line to provide power when daily consumption rose, these plants referred to as Rolling Reserve or Spinning Reserve, used for those times referred to as Peaking Power periods of time, a few hours of each day to top up grids to a level just above what is actually being consumed, so electrical power is still available. The nature of coal fired plants is that they cannot start from cold and deliver their power in a short time, so they were kept running, but not delivering power until called upon. This peaking power period is the province of Natural Gas fired plant, power plants which actually can run up on short notice and deliver their power.

So, what has happened here is that those older and smaller coal fired plants have closed down, and in nearly every case a new Natural Gas fired plant has opened up at the same site, so that provides an explanation as to why coal fired power closures have been covered by newer Natural Gas fired plants.

However, Natural Gas fired power generation is still a source of CO2 emissions, albeit nowhere near as high as for coal fired power. So, while actual coal fired power generation has fallen, nearly all of that has been replaced by Natural Gas fired power generation.

The Maths involved here is interesting, and earlier, where I mentioned that closing a percentage of coal fired power plants is different to removing the same percentage of generated power, the same also applies for a reduction in actual power generated being different to a reduction in CO2 emissions. With coal fired power the actual reduction in power generated between 2005 and 2013 is 22%, and yet the reduction in CO2 emissions is only 18%. Similarly, for Natural Gas fired power, the increase in generated power is 48%, while the increase in CO2 emissions is only 42%. So the actual overall reduction in CO2 emissions is just under 10%. (The source for these calculations is shown at the bottom of this Post, and that is from data provided by the EIA)



From this, you can see how difficult it then becomes to attempt to calculate what this overall pledge from President Obama will translate to when applied across this power generation sector, so, here, I will have to do a simplified calculation, and referring to it as simple does not mean it will be any less accurate.

That reduction in emissions is an overall 28% on the 2005 level, and part of that reduction has already been achieved. However, there is still around 22% to go to reach that full amount, and as can be seen in the White House Fact Sheet, the link at the top of the page, reductions between now and 2020 would likely be in the vicinity of a little more than 1% per year, ramping up to around 2.2% to 2.8% between 2020 and 2025, but the overall reduction needed is around 22% as of now.

So, any reductions must be evenly spread across the board from all sources of emissions, and if the electrical power generating sector, the area of highest emissions, is to contribute equally, then emissions from that sector need to fall by that figure of 22%.

I showed a link earlier to the current state of emissions, and that link has a table which is of interest in all this. The link is the same as the one above, and when you arrive at the link, scroll down to the top of page 4, and it’s Table 2.1. What this shows is the source of emissions from every possible source, and as you can see from just scrolling down, there are so many of them, two pages in all. ALL of these areas need to reduce their emissions equally by that same amount of 22%, and if they cannot achieve that, then the reduction will need to be made up from greater reductions in other areas, and because the power generation emissions level is so high, it then becomes easier to make greater reductions in this area, which is even more problematic for that power generation sector.

However, as you look at the list, note two things in general. While this is just one document of many, they have all been brought out by the EPA, and for something like this, it must have taken a lot of time to put it all together, and then release it as a completed thing with that date on it of February 2015. Now, in April, we have President Obama pledging a 28% reduction on 2005 figures, and all of them dating back to The Kyoto Protocol base year 1990.

Now, having said that, note on this table that it has included that base year of 1990 and 2005, and both of those years have been specifically highlighted. So, in effect, this whole list of documents, this one included, were specifically compiled with this pledge from the President in mind, so while the President has only recently announced this, it all dates back to before this list of documents was even started.

While this is just one document from that initial long list of documents, the overall size of this EPA exercise amounts to 1,000 Pages, and read that again, one thousand pages.

Now, while the list is of general interest to show the huge number of sources of emissions, you can see, right at the top, that by far the largest sources are Electricity generation which makes up around 40% of emissions and Transportation, which makes up around 32% of emissions, so just these two sources alone make up almost three quarters of all emissions, so the vast bulk of this reduction will have to come from these two sectors.

Incidentally, here, where it details transportation, this covers a pretty large number of differing sources, all of them classed as transportation. The largest sources of transportation greenhouse gases in 2013 were passenger cars (42.7 percent), freight trucks (22.1 percent), light duty trucks, which include sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans (18.0 percent), commercial aircraft (6.2 percent), rail (2.6 percent), pipelines (2.6 percent), and ships and boats (2.2 percent). So, this call for the remaining 22% reduction means that there will have to be pretty major changes in this sector if it is to be achieved. Now while emissions have fallen some since the start year, 2005, they have remained static, or have risen slightly in the last 5 years and still have a long way to go to get back to the 1990 level, let alone a further percentage level lower than that. This sector alone, transportation, looks to be problematic if that target is to be achieved.

Now, with respect to just this Transportation sector, just think about that for a minute.

A reduction in emissions from this sector means of even the remaining 22% means that you have to take one in five vehicles off the road, cars, light trucks, SUV’s, medium trucks, long haul rigs, one in five private aircraft, one in five passenger aircraft, one in five ships, one in five trains, one in five private boats, one in five lawnmowers and other gardening equipment. All this alone makes this 22% reduction problematic.

However, when it comes to the electrical power generation sector, it becomes pretty scary, and that’s an understatement.

In the second part of this series, I will further detail just what this emissions reduction pledge means to the electrical power generation sector, and it will make for some pretty astonishing reading.

Sources for Calculations of actual power generated and CO2 emitted – from the EIA. (Energy Information Administration)

Actual Power generation data (see figures for coal and natural gas, and also for the total electricity being generated, that Total shown in the column at the far right)

CO2 emitted from Coal burned (coal shown here in thousand tons, so multiply that figure there by 1000 and then by 2.86, as each ton of coal burned results in 2.86 tons of CO2 being emitted on average)

CO2 emitted from Natural gas burned (NG shown here in million cubic feet, so multiply that figure there by 1000 to convert to mcf, (thousand cubic feet) and then by 122 pounds, and divide by 2000 to convert to tons, as each mcf of gas burned produces 122 Pounds of CO2)

Link to Part Two – Kyoto Revisited -President Obama’s Pledge For Paris (Part Two)

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.

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