A new study published in the journal Nature has concluded that the growing use of natural gas will result in an overall increase in global carbon dioxide emissions – rather than the decrease claimed by some analysts.
The recent boom in the use of natural gas has been driven by the development of new technologies, in particular fracking and horizontal drilling.
Supporters have argued that it is cleaner than coal and point to evidence that suggests burning natural gas produces only half the CO2 emissions as coal per unit of energy.
Expect to see an increase in CO2 emissions and an acceleration of climate change
They say this could help in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But now five research groups from Germany, Austria, Italy, Australia and the US have tested the idea.
“This observation has a shortcoming because increasing the supply of natural gas will also have an effect on the energy markets,” scientist Nico Bauer, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Al Jazeera.
“There is also a scale effect that additional supply will reduce prices and increase demand of natural gas.”
The teams used five different computer models to project what the world might be like in 2050 with, and without, a natural gas boom.
They included not just energy use and production, but also the broader economy and the climate system, and came up with the same results.
“We found that additional natural supply will lead to more natural gas use, but coal consumption will only be reduce partially and therefore we may expect to see an increase in CO2 emissions and an acceleration of climate change,” said Bauer.
The study, released on Wednesday, suggests the burning of natural gas might eventually lead to up to ten percent higher CO2 emissions by 2050, instead of lowering them.
The researchers say it also puts in doubt the belief that new technology can solve the emissions challenge.
“The upshot is that abundant natural gas alone will not rescue us from climate change,” said author Haewon McJeon of the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The scientists say their analysis highlights the need for policymakers to find other ways of limiting CO2 emissions.
“Because coal supply is so plentiful and so cheap that there is not an alternative technology in reach that will substitute the coal without any additional regulation and the most effective way, the most efficient way to do this is pricing CO2 emissions,” said Bauer.