Climate action relied on natural gas. Then CO2 spiked

This article discusses how climate action has relied on natural gas to reduce GHGs. Then CO2 spiked.

America has followed a simple formula for reducing carbon emissions this century: Retire old coal plants, replace them with natural gas, add a dash of renewables.

But the limitations of that approach came into focus in 2018, when power-sector emissions rose for the first time in five years. That bump was all the more notable given a near-record year for coal plant retirements (Climatewire, Jan. 2).

The increase raises questions about America’s reliance on coal-to-gas switching to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. And it underscores the stark reality facing U.S. carbon cutters: The chief source of emissions reductions in recent years has not been wind or solar. It’s a fossil fuel.

“This isn’t the huge transition that is necessary to meet the climate challenge, and I do think utilities are a big part of it,” said Leah Stokes, a professor who studies power-sector and political trends at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s easier to build a natural gas plant, fits with business as usual, and they can ramp it on and off.”

American power companies have shouldered the burden of U.S. emissions reductions in recent years. Power-sector emissions fell 28 percent between 2005 and 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, even as carbon levels from other sectors of the economy rose.

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