Gas Alone Not a Bridge to Two Degrees

July 8, 2013 by Ellie Johnston

Think Progress blogger Joe Romm takes Climate Interactive’s analysis on the lifetime of fossil fuel infrastructure to build the case that natural gas is not a bridge to a carbon free future. His post announces the premier of Gasland 2 this evening in the U.S., a documentary on the harmful effects of natural gas.

Here’s an excerpt (read the complete post here):

If your goal is 2°C or 3.6°F total warming, then we’ve just about finished building every hydrocarbon-burning power plant we can. That is the conclusion of two of the (very few) groups that have such models — the International Energy Agency and Climate Interactive, which has done climate and energy modeling for everyone from the State Department and the Chinese government.

Climate Interactive used their En-ROADS global energy model to explore “the goal of the Copenhagen Accord – to limit temperature increase to 2°C is still in reach.” They found:

Even if the world also has sustained success eliminating deforestation, reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gasses and improving energy efficiency, new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure can’t occur much beyond 2015 in order to maintain a 50% chance of limiting temperature increase to 2°C in 2100. Having a higher probability of achieving the 2°C goal or keeping these even odds of meeting the goal but delaying the end of the era of fossil fuel investment would require additional measures such as shutting down already-constructed fossil-fuel-using infrastructure before the end of its useful lifetime, further reducing energy demand, or achieving so called negative emissions, where CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered.

In this thought experiment using the global energy system model En-ROADS, there is no new investment in fossil fuel using infrastructure after 2015, but the long lifetime of the existing infrastructure means that fossil fuel use continues well into the century.

The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” was pushed by the American Gas Association as far back as 1981. It’s the longest bridge in history!

Averting catastrophic warming means it makes little sense to invest tens of billions of dollars in gas infrastructure and gas-fired power plants over the next few years — unless you plan to shut it down within two decades.

This is very similar to the conclusion that the IEA reached with its energy model.

The IEA made clear that natural gas isn’t the “solution” if your goal is staying far from 7°F warming — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change. It must be noted that even that IEA gas scenario, which results in too much warning, assumes that not only does global oil consumption peak around 2020 — but so does coal! So if one or both of those peaks don’t happen — and they wouldn’t without a high price of carbon and aggressively clean energy deployment starting now — then the Golden Age of Gas is just the “devastating” scenario laid out in last years’s World Bank report, a “world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”