The solution no one’s talking about in Paris

Negotiators at the United Nations climate conference in Paris appear to be heading toward an agreement that’s expected to be announced Friday.

Whatever is in that final document, there’s a huge problem that hasn’t been addressed during the two-week gathering: transportation. The transport sector, which includes passenger vehicles, air travel, rail and ships, accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG), including carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Paris logo2As the EPA notes, “Almost all (95%) of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, largely gasoline and diesel.” Regardless of your views on climate change, it’s indisputable that our over-reliance on oil for transportation has had devastating consequences for the planet, as well as health. Combustion of gasoline and diesel in vehicles produces vast amounts of CO2, methane and other gases, but also particulates and nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog and worsen health problems like asthma and heart disease. (Read more on the Air Quality page of our website.)

One solution, among the many needed to keep the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution under 2 degrees Celsius, is liquid alcohol fuels like ethanol and methanol. Wider availability and adoption of these cheaper, cleaner, American-made fuels could displace some oil, resulting in fewer GHG and smog-producing emissions.

Despite the known problem of emissions coming from transport, few nations gave it much thought in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the formal proposals submitted before the Paris talks, spelling out the steps each member nation is willing to take to reduce GHG.

One nation that stepped up was Brazil. Already possessing a thriving distribution network that offers sugarcane-based ethanol to consumers, it’s expanding the use of biofuels to complement zero-emissions electric vehicles. The country proposes:

“increasing the share of sustainable biofuels in the Brazilian energy mix to approximately 18% by 2030, by expanding biofuel consumption, increasing ethanol supply, including by increasing the share of advanced biofuels (second generation), and increasing the share of biodiesel in the diesel mix.”

Brazil is committing to cutting GHG by 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

It’s this kind of forward thinking that will be required of nations if the goals reached in Paris are to be implemented. Another benefit of including alcohol fuels in the mix is that there doesn’t need to be massive taxpayer money devoted to new projects, which has been a significant issue among between the wealthy and poor nations in Paris. Alternative fuels already are produced in mass quantities (14 billion gallons of ethanol produced in Paris-march22014); the vehicles are available (17.4 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road); and the fueling infrastructure is there (2,700 stations in the U.S. that sell E85 ethanol blend).

We salute the contributions of the tireless U.N. representatives and researchers. But after Paris comes the hardest work yet: Putting ideas to work that will cut emissions while also allowing countries to grow economically. What we’re offering could be a practical solution that can make a difference now.

Further reading:



9 replies
  1. William
    William says:

    Sorry but you sound like shills for ADM. Ethanol is net neg. for energy production. Requires a lot of water. Decreases mileage, bad for engines, diverts food thus increasing prices and IT’S SUBSIDIZED by taxpayers. Apparently Brazil has a big surplus of sugar beets. America does not have a big surplus of corn…

    • Landon Hall
      Landon Hall says:

      I don’t feel like a shill. We’re for all fuels that displace oil, and we know that corn-based ethanol has a lot of baggage, but it’s the cleaner-burning fuel we have at the moment that’s produced at a large enough scale to make a difference. … Studies differ as to the “life cycle” emissions of corn-based ethanol vs. gasoline refined from oil. But I can tell you, many studies downplay the carbon storage in plants that are later harvested for ethanol, and also downplay the emissions that come from the oil-refining process. Talk to the people who live near refineries here in SoCal about that. I’m not going to defend corn-based ethanol to the death, but we have to be real about the facts: Yes, corn takes a lot of water. But few corn-growing states are drought-plagued right now. And more corn is grown on fewer acres than ever before. … Re: mileage, yes the mpg is reduced with ethanol blends. But it’s basically negated by the 20-25 pct discount in price at the pump. And since ethanol is cleaner-burning than gasoline or diesel, there are other benefits besides cost. It’s not a money-saving gambit. … the ethanol industry is not federally subsidized. … there’s such a worldwide glut of corn that there’s plenty enough for food, fuel AND livestock feed (a co-product of the ethanol-production process). America has so much corn that the price is at historic lows, about $3.70 a bushel.

  2. junk ink
    junk ink says:

    Just fyi,

    India INDC says they will lower their carbon intensity by (carbon per $ GDP) 33% NOT their emissions. When you add it all up, India’s plan has their emissions going up by a factor of 3 over that time period.


  3. A J George
    A J George says:

    Not sure what your agenda is Landon – you say your not a ‘shill’ for ethanol but you also say things like corn is at historic lows. 10 years ago corn was trading under $2/bu ($1.95 on 13 Dec ’05) whereas now it’s trading $3.78. That’s an increase of 93% (or 6.8% pa). Compare that with crude which is now down 40% over the past 10 years or gasoline itself which is down 25% (despite the Federal mandate that gasoline blenders must put >10% ethanol into the pool of gasoline – even though driving with over 10% ethanol invalidates engine warranties due to the increased wear caused by higher ethanol blends). To say that an industry is ‘not subsidised’ but to ignore uneconomic mandates forced on the transport industry by politicians in the pocket of Big Corn (ADM, Cargill et al) is misguided at best.

    • Landon Hall
      Landon Hall says:

      Driving with over 10 percent ethanol invalidates warranties? That is patently false. The EPA approves all vehicles to run on “E10,” overriding any warranty. Ditto the exemption for E15: All vehicles model year 2001 and newer (about 120 million vehicles in the U.S.) are approved to run on E15, overriding any warranty or manual made by automakers. Ethanol added to gasoline makes it cheaper. Sure, the price differential between higher ethanol blends and regular gasoline has slimmed, owing to the low price of gas. But there are other reasons to buy ethanol rather than economic: Lower GHG emissions, less smog, made in America, etc. You’re searching for reasons to help Big Oil cement its 100-year-long uninterrupted winning streak as a monopoly fuel. … Yeah, I probably used the wrong word to describe corn as being at “historic” lows for price. But the U.S. is producing more ethanol than ever — 14 billion gallons in 2014, and under the RFS that figure must rise. Ergo, if the theory that ethanol takes food out of the mouths of hungry babies holds, corn prices should keep going up, and up, and up. It hasn’t. Look at this chart: Corn it an all-time high April 30, 2012 (821.972 cents). At last check it was 379.797. … So that theory goes poof.

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