This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

September 29, 2010

Study: Early Equipment Retirements Not Needed to Avoid Severe Climate Change

If the world agrees to take action to avoid severe climate change, does that mean that you'll have to scrap your car or that your utility will need to shut down its new power plant? Not necessarily, according to a new study from the Carnegie Institution. The study examined the current sources of greenhouses gases throughout the world, and based on their expected lifetimes, calculated the total emissions expected from all the existing power plants, vehicles, buildings, industries, and other sources. That works out to about 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

Climate models predict such emission levels would result in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide stabilizing at less than 430 parts per million, resulting in a global temperature increase of 1.3°C (2.3°F) above pre-industrial levels. That's below the targets of 450 parts per million and 2°C that many consider the upper limit to avoid severe climate change impacts.

The authors note, however, that the world will soon need to shift to low-carbon energy sources to avoid future emissions. They also note that their study does not account for the impact of today's infrastructure on tomorrow's energy choices. For instance, the ready availability of gasoline fueling stations and the current lack of electric-vehicle recharging stations may make it more likely for future consumers to buy gasoline-fueled vehicles. The study also assumes that existing infrastructure will be retired at the end of its expected useful life, although many of today's coal-fired power plants have been kept running far past their original retirement dates. See the Carnegie Institution press release.