ANALYSIS: Replacing Coal With Natural Gas Won't Slow Climate Change

Image: AGL.

Expanding the use of natural gas alone won’t slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions over the long term, according to a new analysis of global energy use, economics and the climate.

The study, published in the journal Nature, shows that in the long run a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas would compete with all energy sources including coal, nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.

And perversely, inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use.

“The effect is that abundant natural gas alone will do little to slow climate change,” says Haewon McJeon, an economist at the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“Global deployment of advanced natural gas production technology could double or triple the global natural gas production by 2050, but greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow in the absence of climate policies that promote lower carbon energy sources.”

In the US, recent advances in gas production technology based on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, have led to bountiful, low-cost natural gas.

Gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal.

For the study, five research groups from Germany, USA, Austria, Italy and Australia projected what the world might be like in 2050 with and without a natural gas boom.

The scientists were surprised when the first results showed little change in greenhouse gas emissions. But all five reported similar results.

They say effective climate stabilisation can be achieved only through emissions pricing which requires international political cooperation.

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