“Golden Age of Gas” could impede efforts to counter climate change

Smoke stacks on the horizon. Courtesy: EWEA.

The prospect of cheap natural gas pushing wind power and other renewables off the green energy agenda while increasing the risk of global temperatures climbing to “catastrophic” levels was raised in two European cities on Thursday, 13 September 2012.

In Berne, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA) was reported as saying a new “golden age of gas” could thwart international efforts to mitigate climate change as governments dealing with the ongoing economic crisis consider switching to the cheaper fossil fuel.

In London, the chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) sent a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron saying he was concerned about the UK Government’s statement “that it sees gas as continuing to play an important role in the energy mix well into and beyond 2030 … [not] restricted to providing back up to renewables.”

According to the Guardian, Lord Debon’s letter highlights “the war within the cabinet over whether gas should be favoured above renewable energy,” a decision that could shape the UK’s energy infrastructure for decades.

Debon’s letter, sent also to Edward Davey, Energy and Climate Secretary, and George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said extensive use of gas-fired capacity without carbon, capture and storage in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets.

“The apparently ambivalent position of the Government about whether it is trying to build a low-carbon or a gas-based power system weakens the signal provided by carbon budgets to investors,” Debon wrote.

“It makes more pronounced the perceived risk that the Electricity Market Reform (EMR) will perpetuate the current stop-start approach to investment in low-carbon technologies. As a result, the cases for low-carbon business development, capital allocation, innovation and supply chain investment are undermined, damaging prospects for required low-carbon investments.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reported from Berne that the IEA’s Fatih Birol told an energy conference some governments dealing with austerity measures are cutting their support for renewables and turning to gas instead.

The Reuters story added Birol also said that reducing renewable energy investments would increase the risk of global temperatures increasing this century by 6 degrees Celsius, describing the current warming trend as catastrophic.

“If there are no urgent and bold policies put in place, the door to a 2 degrees trajectory [which most scientists says is the safe limit for global temperature increase], the door to a normal life for us and our children, will be closed and will be closed forever,” he was reported as saying.

Both Birol’s comments and Debon’s letter are compatible with the European Wind Energy Association’s (EWEA) position on renewable energy investments and the need to drastically stop the rise in global carbon emissions and rapidly reduce toxic greenhouse gases caused by fossil fuels.

EWEA supports the European Renewable Energy Council’s vision of 100% renewable energy by 2050.

This article was written by Chris Rose and first published on September 14, 2012, on the EWEA blog: Breath of Fresh Air 

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