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Even as European leaders complain about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions continue to decline. By contrast those countries complaining the loudest have seen their emissions grow. The reason for these disparate trajectories is not hard to find: while coal use continued to decline in the United States, it grew in Europe.
The Washington Times reports, “The U.S. last year produced 773 million short tons of coal, 45 million more than 2016. That was the largest year-to-year increase in nearly two decades, government numbers show.” Despite increased coal production, its use in the United States declined by 12 million tons from 2016 to 2017. At the same time, U.S. coal exports rose by 95 million tons, or 58 percent, in 2017. Europe imported 13 million more tons of coal in 2017 than it had in 2016, an increase of nearly 33 percent. Much of that coal came from the United States.
Thus, while Emmanuel Macron, president of France, and other European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel chided Trump for leaving the Paris agreement to limit use of fossil fuels, their countries grew both their use of U.S. coal and carbon dioxide emissions. The Washington Times reports, “Through September 2017, France imported 1.5 million short tons of American coal—double the amount in 2016 … [while] Germany imported 3.4 million short tons, compared with 2.5 million in 2016.” In early 2017, France and Germany announced they had missed their short-term carbon dioxide emission goals. France’s emissions grew by 3.6 percent in 2016 and were expected to be above target in 2017 as well. Germany had previously admitted its emissions had grown and it would be unable to meet its carbon dioxide reduction goals under the Paris climate agreement through at least 2020.
And its not just Europe where coal’s use is growing. Developing countries are following the development path of Europe, the United States, and China, increasingly using coal to meet their peoples’ legitimate desires for improved lives through better economic conditions. The Washington Post reports while barely two years ago leaders from 195 countries announced a global agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Paris in December 2015, global emissions of carbon dioxide are rising, not falling, as multiple countries are finding it difficult to cut emissions as they promised in Paris.
Quoting Robert Jackson, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Post notes, governments failing to meet carbon emission reduction goals is not a new problem.
“More than two decades ago, the world agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in our air to prevent dangerous climate outcomes,” said Jackson … referring to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change that set international negotiations in motion. “To date, we have failed.”
“Tremendous gains in energy efficiency and renewable power aren’t yet reducing our global hunger for fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas,” [Jackson] added. “Until they do, greenhouse gas concentrations will keep rising.”
The Post’s story goes beyond discussing how Europe, as discussed above, is missing it carbon dioxide target and increasing coal use, to describe the growth of emissions in China and developing countries around the world as they increasingly bring electricity to their energy impoverished peoples through the construction of coal fired power plants. Turkey, Indonesia, and developing countries in Asia and Africa are building and planning hundreds of new coal-fired power plants — many using financing from China — to generate electricity necessary for economic growth. And while China reported their carbon dioxide emissions flatlined for two year as economic growth slowed and the government shuttered some old inefficient coal plants and other industrial operations to clean the air, in 2017 China announced its carbon dioxide emissions had begun to rise once again along with economic growth, and were expected to continue to do so for the near future.
With hundreds of coal fired power plants under construction or in the planning stage, whatever coal’s ultimate fate in the United States it seems the developing world is on pace to make it the King of electricity once again in the near future. The King is dead, long live the King!