The role of natural gas in reducing Asia's greenhouse gas emissions [GGP]
Asian countries consume nearly half of the world’s energy and 70% of the world’s coal. China burns more coal than all other countries combined and plans to build an additional 80 new coal plants in coming years. The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that heavy coal use will continue in many parts of Asia throughout 2050 even in a “low demand” scenario.1 Asia’s dependence on coal works at cross purposes with the global consensus to limit warming to under 2 degrees Celsius as set forth in the Paris climate agreement, as well as pledges by major Asian countries to cut their carbon emissions.
For example, China has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.2 India set a similar net-zero emissions goal by 2070.3 Since Asia emits well over half of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, any realistic strategy to bend down the global emissions curve relies on reducing Asian emissions deeply over time.4 The construction of new coal plants — which typically operate for 40 years or more — raises serious doubts about the climate commitments of leading Asian nations. China’s annual greenhouse gas emissions alone are now more than 30% of the global total, greater than all developed nations combined. Asia’s large and growing countries must transition to a cleaner fuel base to stand a chance at meeting their climate targets while sustaining economic growth. In addition, Asia’s reliance on coal also undermines efforts to reduce local air pollution, which led to over 30 million premature deaths in China alone between 2010 and 2016.5 How can Asia reduce its coal use while also ensuring continued prosperity and sustainability across the continent? Substituting cleaner-burning natural gas for coal offers one key strategy to cut emissions deeply, but only if Asian countries recognize that natural gas is not created equally from a climate change perspective.
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For example, Russia and the United States both increasingly export natural gas to Asia. However, studies show that the United States produces natural gas that has far lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than Russian gas. That’s due to America’s greater performance on all three dimensions of effective methane control: (1) measurement, (2) validation, and (3) policies.
In fact, this paper will show that:
Due to its very high fugitive emissions of methane, Russian gas delivered through pipelines to China emits slightly higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than Chinese coal itself based on this best available data. Thus, any pretense by China that using Russian gas reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions is false.
This fact undermines the climate change rationale of the recently announced new, second major natural gas pipeline project from Russia to China. Increased Chinese imports of Russian gas will only subvert Asian and global climate protection goals.
In contrast, due to lower lifecycle emissions of methane, U.S. liquefied natural gas delivered to China has on average 30% lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than does Chinese coal.
On this basis, we argue that Asia should not only increase its use of natural gas to displace coal, but do so particularly by purchasing liquified natural gas (LNG) imports from the United States and other lower methane emitting sources, rather than sourcing natural gas from Russia.6 We find that lower methane emissions gas systems give the United States a significant competitive advantage versus other sources of gas as Asian countries shift from coal to gas to cut their carbon emissions.
But these U.S. advantages will only continue if the federal government and domestic energy companies work together to lower methane emissions from its production, transportation, and exportation of natural gas. We urge the Biden administration to set an explicit national goal to work toward making America the cleanest natural gas producer in the world. Not only would that boost U.S. LNG exports, it would also pressure other exporting countries to reduce their methane and lifecycle emissions if they want to be remain competitive.
This paper offers a three-tier framework for a comprehensive comparison of methane emissions by Russia and the United States. We explore how each country measures its methane emissions, the extent and effectiveness of third-party validation of emissions estimates, and the role that policy frameworks play in creating incentives for cleaning up gas production.
We note that Russia’s obsession with secrecy makes a comprehensive comparison of methane emissions between the United States and Russia difficult. The bottom line is that Russia’s insistent lack of transparency compared to the U.S. means Russian emissions are likely far higher even than the existing estimates used in the paper. We also note that from an economic and national security perspective, the U.S. has an opportunity to partner with key Asian nations in providing cleaner natural gas while reducing the influence of petro-states like Russia. This is imperative is an especially crucial given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other expansionist policies. However, this is not the main focus of this paper.
All these factors suggest that it is strongly in the U.S. and global climate protection interest for America to continue to expand its LNG exports into Asia, while making sure U.S. regulations drive down methane emissions to work toward being the world’s cleanest producer of natural gas. This report will offer a series of specific recommendations for how to accomplish these goals.
This paper was originally published here.
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