U.S. to Unveil Path to Decarbonize by 2050 in Morocco

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By Dean Scott

Oct. 25 — The U.S. will unveil a sweeping plan to decarbonize its economy by 2050 at the Nov. 7–18 climate summit in Morocco, giving other nations a template to draw up their own plans for quickly shifting away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources, the top U.S. climate negotiator said Oct. 25.

Under the 2015 Paris climate pact, countries are to develop what negotiator Jonathan Pershing termed “midcentury strategies” to show how they’ll halt rising greenhouse gas emissions and meet the accord’s goal to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century compared to the pre-industrial era.

“We’re in the process of developing technical projections for the longer term, not stopping in 2025 but looking out beyond that” to demonstrate how “we squeeze the vast, vast bulk of carbon emissions by 2050,” Pershing said at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center in Washington, D.C.

“The pathways we lay out which we plan to release in a couple of weeks in Morocco will detail scenarios in which the U.S. can build a very low-emission economy that lets us play our part in helping achieve our long-term global target of avoiding dangerous climate change,” Pershing said.

Such decarbonization plans could send a strong signal to energy investors in showing the world is headed away from fossil fuels-based economies in just a few decades to a dramatic uptick in wind, solar and other renewable sources.

Natural Gas Carbon Capture Crucial

For the U.S., that will require continued progress in driving down the cost of wind and solar energy, the U.S. special envoy for climate change said. But it also will likely require capturing and storing fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions, not just those from coal-fired power plants but those fueled by cleaner natural gas as well.

Such technologies have yet to be widely deployed in the U.S.

“If I look out to 2050, gas is going to have to also be captured and stored,” Pershing said.

“So to me it’s not a question of whether gas is good but if the carbon is good. To me, capture and storage becomes an essential technology” in any discussion about decarbonizing the U.S. economy, he said.

Pershing said the U.S. plan, to be released at the United Nations climate summit in Marrakech next month, will build on the pledge the U.S. made in the run-up to the Paris deal to cut its emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels.

“I think it’s going to be a big deal,” Pershing told reporters after the forum, but declined to detail how far along the U.S. is in developing the plan. “But it’s not done yet,” he said.

Negotiators will meet in Morocco to take the first steps to implement the Paris Agreement; the deal will have entered into force by then—much faster than expected—because of quick acceptance this year by enough countries, including big emitters such as the U.S., China and India.

Continued Progress Needed

Pershing said the U.S. is making progress toward its emissions reduction target due to declining prices in solar and wind but also booming production in natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than coal.

“There’s no way in which we could be down as far as we are without gas in the mix,” he said, noting that gas prices have declined from $13 per mcf—which denotes a thousand cubic feet of the fuel—to less than $4 during the last decade.

The nearly 200 nations struggled at the December 2015 Paris talks over whether to call on all countries to decarbonize their economies by 2050 as part of the climate pact.

But they landed on a compromise calling on parties to aim “to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” recognizing that those nations still developing “will take longer” to cap their emissions.

In June 2015, leaders from the Group of Seven largest industrialized countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.—backed a goal to decarbonize the world economy by 2100.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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