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Gas is ‘the New Coal’, with No Role on Path to 1.5°C, Study Says

A new study quantifies for the first time some of the key implications of trying to use natural gas while pursuing the Paris 1.5°C target, arguing that it should not be a “bridging fuel” but should instead be quickly phased out.

“While further scientific analysis of the length of a ‘bridging’ role for natural gas in specific sectors, including the power sector, is required, existing data is sufficient to disqualify natural gas as a viable bridge,” writes Climate Analytics, on the landing page for a report that brands gas as the “new coal”.

Political leaders and climate advocates now widely acknowledge that the world must quickly move away from coal if there is to be any chance of reaching global emissions targets. But natural gas proponents still maintain that gas-fired power generation can be an effective “bridge” while working towards a longer-term, lower-carbon energy system.

Global demand for gas continues to grow rapidly while policy-makers grapple with this claim. In fact, natural gas accounted for the largest recent growth of global CO2 emissions in the last decade and was the source of 60% of global methane emissions linked to fossil fuels in 2020. The assessment from Climate Analytics stresses that natural gas is a fossil fuel, and its phaseout is just as important for reducing emissions as coal’s.

The analysis systematically walks through several of the key talking points in favour of natural gas and “critically reviews and unpacks” each argument. For instance, regarding the common claim that gas can replace coal plants while phasing out that fuel, it points out that renewable energy alternatives are now a cheaper and more effective option.

“Particularly in Asia, where coal-fired power stations are relatively young, the opportunity for gas switching is limited and the IEA acknowledges the importance of renewable energy and efficiency measures as ‘the most important drivers of the energy sector transition,’” Climate Analytics says, citing the International Energy Agency. 

Regarding another claim that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a cleaner alternative to coal, Climate Analytics clarifies that LNG is a very carbon-intensive fuel source, “and taking into account emissions in production, manufacture, distribution, and gasification, including methane leakages, may have a greater GHG footprint than coal-fired generation when used for power production.”

The central point of the study, however, is to show that there is no special role for natural gas in any pathway that keeps the global temperature rise below 1.5°C. On the contrary, natural gas should already have peaked under a Paris agreement-compatible transition, the report says. And since success in meeting climate targets becomes harder as time goes by without action, it’s critical that the role of natural gas is clearly understood.

“It is important for the world to recognize that gas is as important a fossil fuel to phase out as coal,” the analysts say. “Gas, in other words, is the ‘new coal’.”

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "Gas is ‘the New Coal’, with No Role on Path to 1.5°C, Study Says"

#1 Comment By Angela Bischoff On November 10, 2021 @ 1:11 PM

Please stop using the term “natural” gas. This is industry spin. Instead use fossil gas, or fracked gas, since 80% of gas in NA now is fracked.

#2 Comment By Mitchell Beer On November 11, 2021 @ 12:20 PM

Thanks very much, Angela. We’ve received this comment a few times in private emails, and I’m glad you’ve raised it on the site.

I agree the language is inaccurate and serves the fossil lobby. And after a fair bit of pondering, we’ve somewhat weirdly decided to keep using it, simply because it’s a term that more people will understand and connect with — probably among our readers, definitely across a wider population.

People who are actively campaigning against fossil gas or fracking surely know what they’re up against and what those terms mean, just as exhausted colleagues entering the final round of negotiations in Glasgow this week can give you a detailed and coherent definition of Article 6 or the Global Stocktake. They can even give you a convincing explanation of why it wasn’t bizarre that the first iteration of the eventual COP 26 decision was called a “non-paper” when the UK published it over the weekend.

But on the other side of that communication barrier, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in climate conversations with people who’ve asked…what’s the Paris Agreement? Or what’s a COP? In my mind, that’s no criticism of the people asking! It’s a measure of the territory climate and energy communicators have to cross if we want to talk about often complex, technical topics in a way that lands with people outside the bubble.

So. I’d be happy to run headlines about the ills of fossil gas. But if that ends up more confusing than informative — if we somehow end up creating a vague impression that some new product called fossil gas is a climate-busting disaster, but natural gas must be okay — we’ve failed. With whatever small reach we can offer, I’d rather use the language already out there and attach the accurate facts and arguments that need so badly to get out into the world.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the answer you were looking for, but I hope the train of thought makes [as much] sense [as any logic is likely to on the second-last day of the COP].