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Discussing the Sustainability Credentials of Natural gas

Discussing the sustainability credentials of natural gas might not be the first thing that comes to one’s mind on International Mother Earth Day. But this is nevertheless what happened on 22 April, underlining the importance of the topic debated by the UNECE Group of Experts on Gas.

The share of natural gas in current global energy demand is over 20%. Gas is expected to be the fastest growing fossil fuel in future looking scenarios. It is often emphasized as the cleanest fossil fuel in the energy system across the power, transport and heating sectors.  It can also support large scale penetration of variable renewables in global electricity systems.  These descriptions of the benefits of natural gas neither encompass the entire breadth of its “sustainability credentials” nor the challenges it faces in delivering on the economic, social and sustainable pillars of sustainable development. 

John Michael Roberts, from Methinks Ltd, illustrated these challenges by calling natural gas the “2nd best fuel”. Despite the many positive attributes of natural gas, he outlined that relative to natural gas coal based power generation is often less expensive and renewables are cleaner.  He also noted that from a security of supply perspective, political instability can present concerns to countries that import large shares of natural gas. Hélène Macela-Gouin, of Total New Energies confirmed this perspective by highlighting that there is no “natural niche” for natural gas – that there is always an alternative fuel with which it must compete.

The subsequent discussion with the audience and panel members stressed that there is uncertainty in regional outlooks for natural gas use despite various projections that highlight increased demand on global level in future sustainable energy systems. Various comments illustrated that the gas industry needs to increase its focus beyond its traditional supply based approach and better understand the customer perspective, clearly articulating its value across the various sustainability pillars. Developing a crisp, clear and coherent narrative for how natural gas can truly and fully commit to the Sustainable Development goals can help to underpin the development of natural gas infrastructure and continued growth in demand.

The session ended with a commitment by members to invest in the development of the natural gas sustainability narrative across the four task forces of the Group of Experts on Gas. These will be developing best practice guidance and recommendations on: reducing gas leaks along the gas value chain; the role of natural gas in increasing the uptake of renewable energy; liquefied natural gas; and on removing barriers to the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

For more information, please visit: http://www.unece.org/index.php?id=41122#/