The Guardian’s “Problem in Waiting” Article reveals a real problem: the research underpinning it.
In its latest shot across the bow of the energy industry, The Guardian claims that Australia’s natural gas industry is a ‘problem in waiting’ as opposed to a vital component of how the country—and the globe—will lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The author takes a bold approach, alternately asserting that the natural gas industry is responsible for “a globally significant increase in emissions” and that industry has gotten a free pass, because analysis of emissions from natural gas is “all but absent from national debates.” But these claims are as inaccurate as they are bold, relying on skewed time frames and overlooking significant—and widely discussed– scientific studies on the topic.
The author’s very first assertion that Australia’s GHG emissions have grown for the last three years because of its LNG industry, is missing some profoundly important context. For one, these increases are small, from December 2016-December 2017 GHG emissions in Australia have increased 1.5% and, overall GHG emissions are still down from 7.5% from 1990 levels. These decreases have been achieved despite Australia’s increasing population and economic growth. In fact, the Department of Environment and Energy noted in their Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: December 2017, that:
“Emissions per capita, and the emissions intensity of the economy, were at their lowest levels in 28 years in the year to December 2017. Emissions per capita in the year to December 2017 have fallen 36.3 per cent since 1990, while the emissions intensity of the economy has fallen 59.4 per cent since 1990.”
In other words, the larger trend is one of decreasing – not increasing—emissions and limiting analysis to only the last three years skews the data.
The data is also being skewed geographically because the Guardian article is solely focused on Australia. This is problematic for the domestic LNG industry—because while it may create some emissions within the country—it is playing a huge role in decreasing emissions in export markets. This is particularly true in China, which is rapidly replacing its coal generation with Australian natural gas. As noted by the International Energy Agency (IEA):
“China’s economy grew nearly 7% last year but emissions increased by just 1.7% thanks to continued renewables deployment and faster coal-to-gas switching.”
And while China’s 1.7% increase in GHG emissions may not be ideal, it is an undeniable achievement considering the country’s enormous economic growth – and could not have been achieved without Australian LNG.
In addition to leaving out this context The Guardian quotes Climate Analytics CEO, Bill Hare, as saying that the gas industry “is now responsible for what is a globally significant increase in emissions.” While this may be his opinion, it is far from the consensus. In fact, the majority of Australian and international scientific studies emphasise the importance of natural gas in a cleaner economy.
“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.” – Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory
“Increased use of shale gas (and other gas) for electricity generation could significantly decrease Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions based on gas replacing coal.”—Australian Council of Learned Academies
“Gas-fired generation has an important role in contributing to the security and reliability of the NEM and emissions reduction.”—Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market: Blueprint for the Future
“Natural gas can play a crucial role as a transition fuel to a lower-carbon economy.” – International Energy Agency, Australia 2018 Review
In no way has the discussion of emissions from the natural gas industry been “absent” in the national debate, it has been discussed, studied, analysed, and studied again not only in Australia but all over the globe. And while this article is quick to cite “some analysts” as claiming that the benefit of gas does not hold compared to “emissions-free nuclear power or preferred to renewable energy,” it fails to note the challenges associated with nuclear or the fact that most renewable sources, like solar and wind, are variable and still ultimately dependent on natural gas for back up.
To read more on the benefits of Australian natural gas, check out:
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