While the global political establishment vilifies President Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the more important issue for people concerned about global warming is the future state of coal power after Paris. Coal power is the most carbon-intensive widely used electricity source, and U.S. and global coal power trends will play a central role in future carbon dioxide trends. What are global coal power trends in the wake of Paris, and how will Trump’s decision impact those trends?
As recently as 2008, coal powered approximately half of U.S. electricity production. 2008 marked a turning point in U.S. electricity production, as technological advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and directional drilling dramatically reduced the price of U.S. natural gas. As a result, coal powered less than 30 percent of U.S. electricity in 2016. Moreover, despite Trump’s easing of regulatory burdens on coal mining and coal power production, no new coal power plants are scheduled to be built in the United States. At least eight more coal power plants are currently scheduled for closure, and more will surely join the list. Regardless of Trump pulling out of the Paris climate accord, the question regarding America’s coal future is not whether coal will gain market share, but rather to what extent U.S. coal power will continue to lose market share. Perhaps Trump’s decision and overall energy agenda will slow the decline of coal power somewhat, but the decline will continue.
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In contrast, global coal power is trending in the other direction. The percentage of global electricity generated by coal power has increased from 38 percent to 41 percent since the turn of the century. Left-leaning politicians and their media allies have been fawning over China recently, especially after China cancelled plans for 103 new coal power plants. Nevertheless, China still has plans to build over 1,100 new power plants, increasing the number of Chinese power plants by 50 percent. By cancelling plans for 103 new power plants, China merely put a small dent in its massive projected increase in coal power.
China is not alone in its plans to accelerate coal power production. India plans to add another 446 coal power plants, increasing its number of coal power plants by 75 percent. On top of that, more than 300 new coal power plants are planned in other nations.
The problem with the Paris accord regarding carbon dioxide emissions is it does nothing to stem the construction of coal power plants around the world. The main effect of Paris would be to transfer American wealth to Third World nations under the guise of global climate policy. Secondarily, it singles out the United States for punitive additional carbon dioxide reductions when we already lead the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Paris is not about reducing global carbon dioxide emissions, it is about creating a global bureaucracy that entrenches and validates increases in global carbon dioxide emissions while appealing to global leftists’ desire to blame and punish the United States for every conceivable global problem.
A better American policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions domestically and globally is to encourage continuing gains in natural gas market share. Domestically, this merely requires government refraining from adopting a leftist agenda of shutting down natural gas power. The economics of inexpensive natural gas power will ensure natural gas continues to make domestic market share gains.
Globally, America can facilitate a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by exporting more natural gas. Developing nations will not impose high-priced wind and solar power on their economies. Without the benefits of the uniquely American fracking revolution, natural gas prices remain high throughout Europe and Asia. The world’s largest exporter of natural gas, Russia, sells natural gas at twice the price of American natural gas. Removing obstacles to American natural gas production and export will do more to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions than anything contained in the Paris climate accord.
Moving forward, if global warming activists truly value reducing carbon dioxide emissions more than creating a new global climate bureaucracy, they will work with the Trump administration to facilitate more domestic and global use of natural gas power.
[This article first appeared at Forbes.com.]