“Mission Accomplished?”

Published on: 

That would depend on how the “mission” is defined…right?

The Sierra Club published a Fact Sheet dated November 3, 2015, “Accelerating the U.S. Coal Phase Out: Leading by Example in Paris and Beyond”, in preparation for the COP21 conference.

Their Figure 1, shown below, offers a summary view of the progress to date for both the Electric Power Sector and the U.S. in total.

Their Figure 3, below, indicates the Electric Power Sector contribution along with several important future scenarios. The graph and the paper itself, provide important understandings, insights on the projections and their associated assumptions. I have added the vertical lines to pick off data for the various referenced dates.

The actual write-up offers further information on assumptions, as well as a few specific values for these scenarios. I have used those values, where available, to tabulate the data. The U.S. totals are also shown, if electric power generation is 38.5% of the total.

The scenarios and their end-point values are:

 Coal Replaced with Natural Gas at 1790Mt in 2025

 Projected Electric Power Sector Emissions under the Clean Power Plan at 1600Mt in 2030

 Coal replaced with Clean Energy at 1563Mt in 2025


The Sierra Club has defined its mission in their “Beyond Coal” initiative, but their actions and words suggest the mission to be “Killing Coal”. They make a point of their success in the document with their Figure 2, below.

But, shouldn’t the mission be “Killing the Emissions from Coal (& Gas)”? Or, even more appropriately, something like “Achieving 2°C/450ppm by 2050”?

The 2°C/450ppm trajectory at 16Gt world total requires a total U.S. emissions level of 1.3Gt (1300Mt) in 2050. The Electric Power Sector portion of that at 38.5% is 500Mt, assuming balanced contribution. If a balanced contribution proves too difficult, as is likely, the Electric Power Sector may have to reach 200Mt.

Why is this so-called “...Leading by Example…” document silent on actions beyond 2030 and below 1500Mt?

If anything, I find the Sierra Club position to be “misleading” and very much in service of their mission of “killing coal”, but not our mission of dealing with Climate Change. The combination of fuel switching and a further shift to renewables, alone, will not put the world on a trajectory to reach 2°C/450ppm.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating.

If we all had the same “objective”, we would use the current lower cost of natural gas to offset the added cost of CCS, put CCS on Natural Gas Combined Cycle power plants, and in so doing, actually be on the CCS learning curve and be on the 2C°/450ppm trajectory.

The current course of action will likely waste time that we simply do not have.

You can find their fact sheet here