Europe has less than 10 years left to burn gas, study says

EU poised to publish list of 55 new major gas projects considered for public funding

Europe needs to "urgently get off gas", if it is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming – and to comply with internationally agreed reductions, according to new research.

The study by Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and Teesside University in the UK, shows EU countries can afford just nine more years of burning gas and other fossil fuels at the current rate before they will have exhausted their share of the earth's remaining carbon budget which was designed to ensure a maximum global temperature rise of 2 degrees this century.

Even with a managed phase-out, fossil fuels including natural gas, “can have no substantial role beyond 2035 in an EU energy system compatible with a 2 degree limit on global temperature increases”, the authors note – the research was commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The findings are a stark reminder of the urgency with which Europe, as a region historically responsible for climate change, needs to shift to an energy system free from fossil fuels,” said Friends of the Earth. The study has prompted a call for Ireland to stop investment in infrastructure for processing gas from fossil fuel sources.

Under the terms of the Paris climate agreement, the EU committed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees”. For 1.5 degrees, gas and other fossil fuels would need to be phased-out even faster, it concludes.

The research was published to coincide with the latest round of the UN climate talks – known as COP23 – being attended by representatives from 200 signatory countries, which is taking place in Bonn, Germany, to agree how best to implement the accord, and review the implications of the US withdrawal from the agreement.

Methane emissions

Because of the high levels of both CO2 and methane emissions throughout the gas lifecycle, the authors conclude, “there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production”, and that, “an urgent programme to phase out existing natural gas and other fossil fuel use across the EU is an imperative’’.

This warning comes as the EU is poised to publish a list of 55 new major gas projects it is considering for public funding. In the past three years, the EU has granted more than €1 billion in public finance to gas projects.

FoE Europe director Jagoda Munic said Europe’s infatuation with gas was incompatible with serious action on climate change. “The oil and gas industry is going all out to paint gas as green and keep us hooked on fossil fuels, but the truth is there is absolutely no room for gas in the transition we need to a clean energy future. Europe needs to urgently get off all fossil fuels, realise the full potential of energy savings, and go for a 100 per cent renewable system in the hands of people,” he added.

What this report means for Ireland is that “we have less than 20 years to replace gas as fuel for electricity, if we are serious about playing out part in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said FoE Ireland director Oisín Coghlan.

For starters, that meant there was no point in investing in new gas infrastructure, he said. “And having banned fracking in Ireland it would be particularly absurd to start importing fracked gas from the US. The Government simply has to scrap plans for LNG terminals in Cork and Kerry.”

FoE was not saying we should be shutting down Corrib Gas, Mr Coghlan said "but building these terminals makes no sense".

He added: "It's almost 20 years since the Government was first advised to get off peat-burning for electricity. Nothing happened, so the Citizens Assembly just set a five-year deadline. Now we have 20 years to get off gas. We need to start the transition now."