COP28 wrapped up in Dubai, burdened by an undeniable truth: the world is still not on pace to successfully limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Fortunately, world leaders were open to pragmatic solutions and recognized that natural gas has a role in achieving the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. Among those proponents was Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who said natural gas is the "logical" clean energy transition plan.
While some advocates have argued that renewables are the only solution for reducing emissions, the fact remains that they currently cannot generate the baseload energy that we need. As long as battery storage and transmission infrastructure challenges remain, renewables will remain a part of the solution, not the whole solution.
At COP28, world leaders recognized that natural gas and renewables must complement each other to maintain energy security while working to transition to renewables and continue to provide the public with clean, affordable and reliable energy.
Coal-to-Gas Switching at Home
The US has provided a model showing that low-carbon natural gas is a pivotal part of the global energy transition. This strategy involves expanding natural gas production while simultaneously phasing out coal power plants. The environmental benefits are clear – natural gas produces half the amount of CO2 per unit of energy than coal does when burned, making it an ideal near-term energy solution.
The results have been exceptional over the last two decades, with the US achieving a historic 17% decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by switching from coal to natural gas while producing unprecedented cost savings for consumers.
Furthermore, 65% of all US power generation emissions reductions over the last 15 years were driven by coal-to-gas switching. While this solution has led to significant emissions reductions at home, we need to look beyond our borders and export liquified natural gas (LNG) so we can replace the dirtiest coal-fired power plants worldwide.
Export LNG to Reduce Emissions on a Global Scale
The need for cleaner natural gas on a global scale has never been more critical. Global coal consumption reached a new all-time high in 2022, increasing by 3.3% to 8.3 billion tons.
Coal consumption is also responsible for about 40% of global GHG emissions, and supply chain and geopolitical challenges caused demand to increase by approximately 1.5% in the first half of 2023. Europe's energy crisis showed that countries are willing to revert to higher-emitting sources at the expense of cleaner options to stabilize energy flows.
Remarkably, if the world's top 5% worst emitting coal-power plants switched to natural gas, it would reduce global power sector emissions by 30%. If that switch incorporates carbon capture and storage, this reduction would increase to nearly 50%.
Taking on Methane Emissions
Coal-to-gas switching would also put a significant dent in global methane emissions. According to Paul Bledsoe of the Progressive Policy Institute, "limiting methane will reduce near-term temperatures far more than any other action."
Methane reduction is critical in countries like China, the world's largest coal producer, whose coal mines are responsible for over 15% of global energy sector methane emissions. Dirty plants like these must be replaced with a low-carbon alternative, and natural gas is the ideal solution.
The good news is that the US natural gas industry is serious about reducing methane emissions and recognizes that this will further unlock natural gas's potential as a global climate solution.
At COP28, 50 energy companies, including a Partnership to Address Global Emissions member, signed onto the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter to push methane abatement and other emissions reduction efforts across the industry. Alan Armstrong, CEO and President of Williams, said his company is "rapidly going after methane," having reduced its methane emissions by 16.5% in 2022.
The Missing Link: Reforming US Permitting Policies
For far too long, energy companies were excluded from conversations about solutions to address climate change. But COP28 gave the industry a seat at the table, allowing an opportunity to highlight the logic behind natural gas – it is the key to a successful global energy transition AND energy security.
We must harness this momentum and urge policymakers in Washington to back permitting reform and expedite the approval process for long-awaited pipeline infrastructure.
The US has the resources and can export enough LNG to the rest of the world to make achieving the Paris climate agreement a reality.