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Climate Change

Published on June 14th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley

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$1.6 Trillion Natural Gas Expansion Will Eliminate Any Chance Of Meeting Paris Carbon Goals

June 14th, 2018 by  


When the G20 countries meet in Argentina later this year, one of the topics on the agenda will be increasing investments in natural gas production by as much as $1.6 trillion by 2030. A new report by Oil Change International finds doing so will use up the entire remaining carbon budget limitations needed to meet the climate goals of the Paris climate accords. In other words, if the world’s major economies continue on their business as usual approach, all those promises made in Paris will likely be for naught.

natural gasThe slogan being used to justify continued use of natural gas resources is that it is a “bridge fuel to the future.” That phrase began “with environmental NGOs in the early 2000s when the Worldwatch Institute posited the idea of fossil gas as a bridge to the ‘hydrogen economy.’ In this incarnation, fossil gas would be used to make hydrogen to replace oil for transportation and would later be replaced by renewable energy deployed for the same purpose,” according to the report.

The hydrogen economy has now faded from memory but the concept of natural gas as a “fuel” has been adopted as the motto of fossil fuel companies around the world. Indeed, in 2017, the governor of  Rhode Island used it to advocate on behalf of a utility company that wants to build three 1,000 MW gas fired generating plants in the northwestern corner of the state and in nearby Massachusetts. We can be reasonably certain the governor didn’t make it up herself but heard it from advocates for the utility company that wants to construct those three facilities.

One of the concerns with natural gas is leakage of methane, which is extraordinarily high from fracking operations. The Oil Change International study shows that even without such leakage, natural gas is not the bridge fuel its proponents claim it to be. “Setting methane leakage aside, we demonstrate that even in the hypothetical case of zero methane leakage, fossil gas cannot be a bridge fuel. This demonstrates that methane leakage is not the sole determinant of whether fossil gas causes net harm to the climate. To meet climate goals, fossil gas production and consumption must, as with other fossil fuels, be phased out, and reducing methane leakage does not alter that fact.”

Natural gas advocates claim burning it to make electricity creates far fewer carbon emissions than burning coal, and that statement is correct. However, as the report states, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that to stay within the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal, the electricity sector must rapidly decarbonize and, globally, must be carbon-free by roughly mid-century. Shifting reliance from one high carbon energy source to one that is around half as polluting is not a path to decarbonization. The reductions needed are much greater than a switch from coal to fossil gas would achieve.”

Natural Gas Is Not A Bridge Fuel

“Figure 3 (above) shows that if all of the International Energy Agency’s projected coal fired generation in 2040 is replaced with fossil gas fired generation, emissions from the power sector would still be more than five times the median of IPCC scenarios for a likely chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Indeed, the figure shows that emissions from oil and gas power alone are too great, meaning that none of the coal can be replaced with fossil gas; it must all be replaced with zero carbon energy sources. And at the same time, the world must reduce fossil gas consumption, not increase it.”

The message is clear. The world must stop burning fossil fuels to make electricity if there is any hope of avoiding the climate calamity the Paris accords were designed to prevent. Last week at the G6 +1 summit in Canada, the participants put out a flowery sounding communiqué extolling the marvelous things they planned to do to comply with their commitments to the Paris accords but stopped short of promising to do anything specific to put their promises into action. It wound up being a classic example of appearing to say something worthwhile while actually offering little but empty words.

“Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan the UK and the European Union reaffirm their strong commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, through ambitious climate action; in particular through reducing emissions while stimulating innovation, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening and financing resilience and reducing vulnerability; as well as ensuring a just transition, including increasing efforts to mobilize climate finance from a wide variety of sources.”

Such namby-pamby verbiage is worse than doing nothing because it disguises the extent to which business as usual will continue to be the operative plan for most of the world’s largest economies. The G20 includes more smaller countries, many of whom are experiencing the effects of climate change first hand. Oil Change International is hoping some of those countries will bring pressure to bear on the largest economies to back the obligations agreed to in Paris with constructive action. Sadly, that outcome is unlikely to materialize as long as world leaders fail to understand and act on the information provided in the Oil Change International report.

The report itself is extensively documented and footnoted. It is an excellent resource for any members of the CleanTechnica community who are looking for information they can use to influence family, friends, and co-workers about the need to take action to implement the Paris accords. It is linked above but here is another link you can use to access the full report. It’s well worth your time to read the whole report so you can speak knowledgeably with others on this subject without injecting political rhetoric into the debate.


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may take him. His muse is Charles Kuralt -- "I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what's around the bend?" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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