The Joint Announcement on Climate Change, between the U.S. and China

Today, the White House issued a Press Release announcing plans for the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China to work together toward addressing the Climate Change issue. This is not a binding agreement, but it does set specific targets for both nations, who are the number one and number two emitters of greenhouse gasses. In particular, the U.S. aims to achieve a 26%-28% reduction in its 2005 CO2 emissions, by the year 2025; meanwhile, China aims to manage its rapidly growing consumption history, by peaking no later than 2030 and ensuring that at least 20% of their 2030 energy consumption comes from ‘non-fossil fuels’.

Although the goals are not legally binding, the agreement is potentially significant, and it will hopefully stir other nations to set (and achieve) real, tangible goals. A major test will occur in Paris in 2015, at the United Nations Climate Conference. If the U.S. and China come out as strong leaders advocating a new international agreement, we may see some progress. But, if the U.S. and China do not lead, this latest non-binding announcement will be quickly revealed as just a political show.

Could this Announcement be Beneficial to ‘Big Coal’ & ‘Big Oil’?

Yes. China’s per capita energy consumption has been growing and yet has a long ways to go, to catch up to the U.S. per capita energy consumption. So, assuming China’s consumption continues to grow rapidly until 2030, much of that increase can be fed with coal from Illinois, Kentucky and Wyoming. Plus, the new agreement does emphasize the use of ‘advanced coal technologies’, implying we can use coal cleanly.

Notably, there is nothing in this latest agreement that slows down the mining of U.S. coal. In fact, it puts an incentive on China to expedite development of power plants and factories that consume increasing shipments of U.S. coal. If China doubles their energy consumption but ensures forty percent or so of new consumption is from solar and other non-fossil sources, they will easily make their target. If the U.S. levels hundreds of mountains and ships huge quantities of coal to China, they too can make their target… so long as we make progress to correct our current areas of waste (by improving building insulation, and reducing electric transmission losses) while also doing a fair job bringing on new wind/solar/tidal energy supplies.

Canada is not part of this latest agreement, so they can make a big pit out of half of Alberta, and those ‘tar sands’ can all eventually be converted from trapped hydrocarbons to CO2, and emitted by the U.S., China, and any other nation, all while conforming with the terms of this latest non-binding agreement. In other words, this agreement satisfies the desire of fossil fuel producers to continue to grow their sales, while creating what may prove to be an illusion that we are finally ‘turning a corner’ and moving away from fossil fuels.

And then, there are those who deny having any scientific training yet they proceed to rabidly deny the prospect that human consumption of fossil fuels is causing climate change. Here is a recent 4-minute analysis by Stephen Colbert:

How will this Impact Aviation?

If the U.S. leadership becomes serious in trying to meet these targets, the White House and Congress will want to pressure FAA to alter commercial passenger schedules by adjusting taxes, subsidies and regulations. Large hub operations, like Atlanta, that consume 20% more energy due to longer, indirect routes, need to be replaced with more direct flights. For example, today’s Delta connecting from Seattle-Atlanta-DCA total 2,371-nm, versus 2,023-nm for a direct SEA-DCA flight; thus, a 20% savings can be realized by steering passengers away from distant hub transfers and onto non-stop flights.

A steep carbon-tax would nudge aviation in this direction. Or, restructuring current aviation taxes, to be based on direct miles flown (instead of ticket price or ‘fee-per-flight-leg’, so that a SEA-ATL-DCA flight would cost substantially more than a direct SEA-DCA flight.

There will also be ample pressure to end generous subsidies, such as the so-called ‘Essential Air Service’, that not only waste money but also consume a lot of extra fuel to a minimal benefit. And, airport authorities seeking FAA AIP grants to build a large airport will need to grow actual local passenger counts, and not rely on hub through-traffic.

See also: