Reducing Atmospheric CO2 to a ‘Safe’ Long-Term Level
A “Silver Bullet”
There is a “silver bullet” to the seemingly intractable problem of dramatically reducing CO2 emissions, both nationally and internationally. It is the gradual and complete global phase-out of conventional coal-fired power plants by the year 2030, as well as prohibiting the development and emissions from unconventional fossil fuels (e.g., oil shale, tar sands, methane hydrates, etc.). This alone would bring the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to within acceptable levels, in time to avert dangerous climate change (see Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?).
The Building Sector
Climate change is an energy problem, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, and there are two sides to the energy issue “supply and demand”. In order to effectively address the phase-out of conventional coal-fired power plants by 2030, we must reduce the demand for electricity from these plants. In 2012, 74.9% of all the electricity produced at power plants in the U.S. was used to just operate buildings. According to a recently published paper Options for Near-Term Phase-out of CO2 Emissions from Coal Use in the United States, if we are to have any chance of averting dangerous climate change, we must complete a comprehensive building sector transformation by aggressively implementing the 2030 Challenge targets. Also, since the planet is already experiencing some warming, and because additional warming due to the inertia of the climate system will occur (an additional .6°C), today’s buildings must also be designed to adapt to the projected changes.
Phaseout of CO2 Emissions From Conventional Coal Use
Although the coal industry has offered up ‘clean’ coal, i.e., continuing to burn coal with the addition of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), as a fix for the CO2 emissions of conventional coal plants, this ‘solution’ is at present ‘in development’, and cannot be implemented in time to avert dangerous climate change. The coal industry itself has acknowledged that, if it can be proven possible and economically feasible, implementing CCS technology to scale is 20 years out.
Most of the conventional coal plants in the U.S. were built in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Relatively few coal plants have been built since due to cost, specifically the cost of air pollution controls. (See graph here). Therefore, many conventional coal plants are nearing the end of their planned useful life and will begin to be phased out rather than brought up to new air quality standards. The key to retiring these plants by 2030, and insuring that no new conventional coal plants are built, lies in implementing the 2030 Challenge.
As we phase out conventional coal use, Architecture 2030 supports a robust federal investment to reshape the economies of coal-dependent local communities, as well as implementing a national retraining program for those working in the coal sector.