The annual UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28, will commence November 30 – December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As the world's largest climate change conference, business and government leaders will convene to discuss progress towards achieving the Paris Climate Agreement.
While progress has been made in some countries, we are not currently on track to achieve our global emissions goals. According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) updated Net Zero Roadmap, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector reached an all-time high of 37 billion tons in 2022, 1% above their pre-pandemic level.
While various factors are to blame, a record-setting 3.3% increase in global coal consumption has perpetuated the rise of hazardous emissions.
To reach the Paris Agreement's target to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions need to peak before 2025 and be reduced by around 43% by 2030. That leaves a short window of opportunity that cannot be achieved without substantive policy redirection.
However, there is a straightforward solution to this challenge – exporting US natural gas can help phase out global coal and drastically reduce emissions. This solution, proven in the US, should play a central role in the worldwide conversation at COP28.
A breakthrough opportunity for the energy industry
In COP's brief history, energy companies have not been included in conversations about solutions to address climate change. But with this year's conference taking place in a major energy-producing region, the industry has an unprecedented opportunity to help advance a low-carbon future.
Sasha Mackler, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Program, agreed that this will likely "lead to some quite dynamic discussion and hopefully some new shared understanding of how the oil and gas industry can be part of the solution when it comes to driving a net zero economy by mid-century."
For the natural gas industry, this means leading conversations about how LNG is not only part of the clean energy future but is critical to its success.
Clean LNG on the world stage
At COP28, the key message must be conveyed: natural gas is a cleaner and more reliable alternative to coal.
Coal consumption is responsible for about 40% of global GHG emissions, and supply chain and geopolitical challenges have caused coal demand to grow by approximately 1.5% in the first half of 2023. China and India have had the most significant increase in coal use, which will account for 70% of the world's total consumption this year.
Meanwhile, the US is producing far less coal and is substantially reducing its emissions. Since 2005, the US has experienced a remarkable 17% decline in GHG emissions by switching from coal to natural gas.
The US must move quickly to deploy natural gas to our allies to reduce coal dependency and lower global emissions. According to Naomi L. Boness, Managing Director of the Stanford Natural Gas and Hydrogen Initiatives, natural gas is critical "both to meeting energy security needs around the world [and replacing] the increased use of coal in places like India and China."
The good news is the US natural gas industry is already taking critical steps to produce cleaner and more reliable energy.
This includes methane abatement, which Paul Bledsoe of the Progressive Policy Institute says is essential in "limiting near-term temperature increases that are causing devastating climate change impacts around the world."
US LNG is also far cleaner and less methane-intensive than notoriously leaky natural gas from countries like Russia.
We need to harness the capabilities of natural gas
While the US has a plentiful supply of natural gas, more infrastructure is needed to ensure our ability to meet demand overseas. The rise of coal production worldwide shows what happens when the US cannot export enough clean and reliable energy.
Global energy security and climate change are on the line, so at COP28, US policymakers must advocate for the export of US natural gas to replace coal and finally prioritize permitting reform at home so we can unleash LNG.
"You actually need adults in the room," says Alex Herrgott, President & CEO of the Permitting Institute. "COP28 needs to be about the practicality of how we harness the technology and capabilities of natural gas to solve the real problems of today."