Ignoring scientific consensus, activist group falsely claims that natural gas won’t help lower Australia’s emissions

In an article published last week in The Sydney Morning Herald, the Director of Climate Analytics—a climate policy institute in Berlin, Germany– claimed that any development of the Northern Territory’s natural gas would be in direct conflict with Australia’s commitment to the 2030 Paris Agreement.  This assertion flies in the face of the global, scientific consensus that natural gas plays an important role in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and complementing variable renewable sources.  In fact, in making this statement he ignores a key finding from the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory report:

In the short to medium term, the Australian National Electricity Market is likely to require higher levels of flexible, gas fired generation, which can provide a reliable low-emissions substitute for ageing coal fired generation and can provide essential security services to rapidly respond and complement variable renewable electricity generation.”

His claims are also inconsistent with recent research published in peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change. This research, supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency in Japan, found that a coal-to-gas shift is consistent with climate stabilisation objectives for the next 50-100 years and that this is consistent with the global goals of the Paris Agreement.

While these findings may surprise those who haven’t been following the energy industry closely, the logic is quite simple. Due to natural gas’ lower emissions than coal and greater reliability than variable, renewable, resources (like solar and wind), experts like those included on the Independent Scientific Panel Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation in Western Australia as well as Australia’s Chief Scientist are in support of natural gas use as a means of lowering emissions and to support intermittent renewable energy sources.

In his Finkel Review of Australia’s electricity market, the Chief Scientist found that:

The best gas-fired generation is less than half as emissions intensive than even the most efficient coal-fired plant.”

Furthermore,

Access to a reliable and affordable gas supply is in the interest of all Australians given its direct use for heating, electricity generation and as a feedstock in manufacturing.”

For more on natural gas as an important feedstock to manufacturing check out our blog post

What’s more, the emissions benefits of natural gas extend well beyond Australia’s borders. With a strong LNG export market bolstering our economy, Australia is also supporting overseas efforts to reach emissions targets by switching away from coal. The Australian Government has estimated that Australia’s LNG exports have the potential to save importing countries 130 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.  That is equivalent to nearly a quarter of Australia’s annual emissions and is a major contribution to reducing the global impacts of climate change.

Finally, Climate Analytics’ Director highlighted that the International Energy Agency (IEA) assumes gas fields generally leak methane at 1.7 per cent of production (a global average). This is more than twice the Australian government estimate of 0.7% which is based on Australian industry practices and regulations, as per the Department of the Environment and Energy. Worse still, the Climate Analytics’ Director omitted the second part of the IEA’s conclusion:

What does this mean for the lifecycle emissions of gas compared to coal?… Taking into account our estimates of methane emissions from both gas and coal, on average, gas generates far fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than coal when generating heat or electricity, regardless of the timeframe considered.”

These conclusions were captured in the IEA’s aptly named commentary, “The Environmental Case for Natural Gas.”

But the potential benefit is not just environmental, natural gas development in the Northern Territory will provide increased economic output and greater employment opportunities for rural communities. The Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory confirmed:

Any emergence of an onshore shale gas industry in the NT should create economic development opportunities in regional areas that will be in close proximity to Aboriginal communities, or in regions with large Aboriginal populations. Private sector employment opportunities in these regions tend to be scarce, and relatively low rates of employment is one of the factors contributing to poor economic and social outcomes experienced by Aboriginal people.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time our team has caught Climate Analytics playing it fast and loose with facts.  With so much at stake, Northern Territory residents deserve to read accurate information from reliable sources on the topic of developing local resources.

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