- Fossil fuel interests battle for natural gas at UN COP27 climate summit.
- They say natural gas is a transitional fuel, cleaner than coal, and can serve as a reserve for renewables.
- But natural gas is mostly methane – a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide – and it leaks.
SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — World leaders debating critical climate issues at the United Nations summit in Egypt have company: 636 fossil fuel lobbyists are among the attendees.
The lobbyists’ presence worries experts, as their business interests often conflict with the summit’s goal of reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change, while providing electricity to the world.
The fossil fuel industry has more representatives at the conference than any other country except the United Arab Emirates, according to a report by Global Witness, and more representatives than the sum of the 10 most affected countries by climate change.
It is difficult to identify the power of these lobbyists in the negotiations. According to Dominic Kavakeb, spokesperson for Global Witness, a third of the fossil fuel lobbyists identified by Global Witness are registered in national delegations. It is therefore difficult to say which interests they support.
“What we do know is that through national delegations they have privileged access and they represent an industry that has a financial stake in the continued burning of fossil fuels,” Kavakeb said. to Insider.
“For a summit on climate protection, this is a recipe for disaster,” Kavakeb added.
Many of these lobbyists are pushing for the expansion of natural gas – a fuel source that increases methane emissions that world leaders pledged to cut at the last climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The influence of fossil fuels threatens to undermine progress toward one of the most powerful immediate climate solutions: ending human methane emissions.
Toby Rice, CEO of EQT, which is the largest natural gas producer in the United States, told Insider that he was at this year’s conference, COP27, to promote his own climate solution: produce natural gas. natural in the United States and export it to foreign countries that depend on coal. He argues that natural gas is more reliable and can be a “backup” or “transition” fuel alongside renewables.
On Friday, The Guardian reported that other industry associations were making similar claims. It seems to be working, especially since the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine has boosted Europe’s appetite for oil and gas from Africa. In the past two weeks, at COP27, three new natural gas deals were announced in Egypt, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Rice calls the natural gas expansion “the biggest green initiative on the planet.” But it could be a gamble, with high climate risks.
Natural gas carries the most potent greenhouse gas in the world
Like coal and oil, natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gases when burned, trapping more heat on our planet and accelerating climate change. It is true that natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal. But natural gas is mostly methane.
Although not as long-lived as CO2, methane warms the planet better, with about 80 times more heat-trapping potential than CO2 over 20 years. Methane has caused around 30% of the global temperature rise so far, according to the UN.
Although the consequences of methane are serious, the good news is that countries and industries can quickly slow climate change by reducing methane emissions. Pumping and transporting more natural gas could increase methane emissions. Damage and wear and tear to pipelines and other fuel infrastructure frequently cause leaks. This is in addition to methane that is intentionally released or “vented” as part of the natural gas production process.
It’s unclear exactly how much methane is currently leaking from gas operations, as companies often don’t report or measure it. The International Energy Association estimates that methane emissions from the energy industry are 70% higher than reported.
Industry-based climate solutions or fossil fuel influence?
In Europe, oil and gas companies have successfully lobbied against methane emissions regulations for imported fossil fuels, which comprise 90% of European Union gas consumption, according to analysis by think tank InfluenceMap . In the United States, major industry associations have historically fought against the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate methane emissions.
The analysis revealed that industry players used two main arguments against methane regulations: that natural gas is a “low carbon” energy source and that it is good for energy security. .
But new rules could be on the horizon in the United States. On Nov. 11, the EPA introduced a proposal for tougher regulations on methane emissions, including requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and plug methane leaks. President Joe Biden touted the plan at COP27.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, said in a statement that it looks forward to reviewing the proposed rule, adding that it plans to support “a final rule that is cost-effective, promotes the innovation and creates the regulatory certainty needed for long-term planning.
Rice said EQT plans to plug its leaks and reduce its methane emissions by 90% within 24 months. Replacing leaky gas infrastructure would cut the company’s carbon footprint by just over half, Rice says. Next, the company plans to achieve net zero by purchasing “terrestrial carbon offsets”. Typically, this means giving money to companies that plant forests.
But many researchers say it’s not an effective alternative to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, because forests only store carbon for hundreds or thousands of years – not hundreds. .of– a time scale of thousands of years where gas, oil and coal stored carbon before companies burned it.
Rice took a different approach. “We need to address people’s concerns about the emissions associated with the production of our product, and instead focus the conversation on: what are the emission reductions when people use our products? ” he said.
While industry leaders say their products are part of a solution to the climate crisis, climate groups are more critical.
As Kavakeb said, “Like tobacco lobbyists at a health convention or arms dealers at a peace summit, fossil fuel lobbyists have no place at the COP. – or any other event that wants to be taken seriously in the fight against climate change.”
. lobbyists push for gas natural heavy methane at United Nations Summit on climate