Does switching from Coal to Gas solves climate change?

Following on from my post about Coal, I thought I should comment on the spin from the Oil Industry from the UN meeting on climate change. Not surprisingly the line was that Coal should be the target and that a switch from Coal to Gas would reduce emissions.

As reported in the Financial Times:

Top executives from oil and gas companies came to New York as well to show their support for putting a price on carbon emissions and other climate measures.

But they also had a more subtle message for the assembled presidents and prime ministers: We’re not the main problem – coal is.

“Replacing coal with gas in power generation is a simple way of halving emissions,” Helge Lund, Statoil’s chief executive, told the gathering, a reference to a lump of coal producing almost twice as much carbon when burnt as natural gas – in relation to the amount of energy generated – and roughly a third more than oil.

Hege Norheim, Statoil’s head of corporate sustainability, spelt out the point more forcefully in an interview with the Financial Times in New York, “Our message is that there is a fundamental difference between the various forms of fossil fuels, and I think that knowledge is lacking in this debate,” she said.

“It’s coal that really needs, in a wise way, to be phased out,” she added, saying gas power stations were not only cleaner than coal plants but could be switched on and off faster. That makes them increasingly vital at a time when wind and solar generation is rising, because they can help manage energy supplies on still and cloudy days.

The myriad plastic and chemical products derived from crude oil are also a fundamental part of everyday modern life, she said.

“Oil and gas will be important for at least the next 30 years. That’s fundamental, and we haven’t succeeded in explaining that,” she said.

This is the lesser of two evils argument. But I can’t see how it stacks up. As I said in my post about Coal the target is to cut emissions within the next 34 years by 80%, switching from coal to gas in power generation halves emissions in power generation (as claimed above) not total emissions – so what is the solution to meet the rest of the target and what is the contribution of the Oil Industry in meeting this?

Business needs to recognise that it has a responsibility to not only support putting a price on carbon, but also not to dissemble about what is required to meet the targets countries have signed up for in emission reduction.

Switching from coal to gas power generation may tactically appear a good thing in a sub sector of emission reduction, but it is not a strategy to achieve the targets. Developing that strategy is what business needs to get involved in because 34 years is not a long time for a radical change to the global economy.

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