As Third Energy prepares to start fracking in North Yorkshire, new research warns against bringing new sources of gas into production if Europe is to meet its climate targets.
The study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Teesside University published today concluded that Europe must stop using gas within 18 years. Even short-term use of gas was incompatible with EU commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
The study found that under current emissions, the EU had just nine years left in a fair carbon budget required to limit warming to well below 2oC. Even with a managed phase-out, gas must go by 2035.
The research, commissioned by Friends of the Earth, comes as the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, is considering whether to approve fracking at Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site. If permission is granted, this will be the first high volume hydraulic fracturing in the UK since 2011. Other companies are preparing plans to sink shale gas exploration wells across the East Midlands and northern England.
The fracking industry has promoted shale gas as a “clean fuel” and a bridge to a low carbon future. It has predicted that gas will remain part of the UK energy mix until 2050 and beyond.
But the authors of the new study, Professor Kevin Anderson and Dr John Broderick, said fossil fuels, including natural gas, had no substantial role in an EU 2oC energy system beyond 2035.
“Within two decades, fossil fuel use, including gas, must have all but ceased, with complete decarbonisation following soon after.
“There is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production.
“An urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is an imperative of any scientifically-informed and equity-based policies designed to deliver on the Paris Agreement.”
Professor Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said:
“If the EU is to transform its energy system to align with the Paris temperature and equity commitments, it cannot continue with business as usual and must instead initiate a rapid phase out of all fossil fuels including natural gas. This needs to begin now and be complete within the coming two decades.”
Friends of the Earth fracking campaigner, Rose Dickinson, said:
“This report is stark: Europe needs to cut gas use fast to play its part in avoiding catastrophic climate change. The UK also has a key role to play, and starting up a whole new fossil fuel industry in England would make this much harder. It’s another compelling reason why Energy Secretary Greg Clark must not allow fracking to go ahead in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. Rather than get locked into more fossil fuels, we must prioritise energy saving and renewable energy – that’s the only way to deal with the climate crisis”.
Publication of the research coincides with the start of new UN climate talks in Bonn. For the next two weeks, negotiators from around the world will be discussing how to implement the Paris Agreement.
One of the key issues is likely to be what would be a fair rate for reducing emissions for different regions of the world.
EU member states are in the final stages of agreeing a 40% domestic emissions reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
But a review by global civil society organisations suggests this isn’t a big enough cut to reflect Europe’s responsibility for climate change and capacity to tackle it. The review calculates that to be fair, the EU should be doing nearly five times more to mitigate climate change.
In their report, Professor Anderson and Dr Broderick spell out what the EU would have to do to meet its fair share of a 2oC target. They say the EU must begin immediately to cut emissions by 12% a year – much faster than the 40% reduction by 2030.
The authors argued that the long-term use of gas and oil had been supported because climate models relied too much on what are known as negative emissions technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. This has had the effect of closing down what the authors described as “more challenging but essential debates over lifestyle, profound social-economic change and deeper penetration of genuinely decarbonised energy supply.”
Their study also concluded that methane emissions were at dangerously high levels. Methane emissions from human sources, including the gas industry, were likely to add 0.6oC to global warming, they estimated. They also said the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) increased its climate change impact by an average of 20% and by up to 134%.
Friends of the Earth is recommending:
- The EU’s energy system must be rapidly transformed to be fossil fuel free by 2030
- The EU should immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies, including grants or loans to gas infrastructure projects
- The EU and member states should stop support for all fossil fuel projects, stop any new exploration for oil, gas and coal and ban unconventional fossil fuels, including shale gas.
Can the climate afford Europe’s gas addiction? Briefing by Friends of the Earth Europe
Natural Gas and Climate Change report by Professor Kevin Anderson and Dr John Broderick