U.S. climate envoy John Kerry on Thursday put natural gas on notice, saying the world’s reliance on the fossil fuel should be limited to potentially a decade, unless its greenhouse gas emissions are fully captured.
Though natural gas burns cleaner than coal when used to generate electricity, it should not be part of a long-term climate strategy without emission-control technology, Kerry said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg Television.
“If you can capture the emissions — literally, genuinely — then you’re reducing the problem,” said Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate. “We have to put the industry on notice: You’ve got six years, eight years, no more than 10 years or so, within which you’ve got to come up with a means by which you’re going to capture, and if you’re not capturing, then we have to deploy alternative sources of energy.”
Kerry’s comments come as the world’s climate goals are overshadowed by a short-term push to steer natural gas to European countries and help wean them off Russian energy. Inside the U.S., many policy initiatives that are meant to help fulfill the nation’s Paris agreement pledge to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 remain stalled in Congress, months before an election that could cost President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party control of the House and Senate.
Natural gas produces about 50% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal when burned to generate electricity, though environmentalists have warned that methane leaks in pipelines and processing equipment can obliterate any of its green bonafides.
“I’ll take that 50% reduction for the next eight years, because our goal between now and 2030 is to reduce emissions by a minimum of 45% to do what the science has told us we have to do,” Kerry said. “However, no one should make it easy for the gas interests to be building out 30- or 40-year infrastructure, which we’re then stuck with and you know the fight will be ‘well we can’t close these because of the employment, because of the investors, et cetera.”
Kerry’s comments drew criticism from oil industry officials, who said they conflicted with Biden’s efforts to steer more gas to Europe.
“Putting natural gas on an arbitrary clock is a bad signal to send to the global community, especially given President Joe Biden’s agreement to greatly expand U.S. LNG exports to the EU by 2030,” tweeted Mike Sommers, head of the American Petroleum Association. “These comments create uncertainty and discourage needed investment.”
Leslie Beyer, head of the Energy Workforce and Technology Council, warned against mixed signals that discourage investments in low-carbon technology and necessary infrastructure to export gas. “These statements directly contradict President Biden’s commitment to increase U.S. LNG exports to Europe and discourage the long-term investments and contracts these projects require,” she said.
The war in Ukraine and Europe’s bid to wean itself from Russian energy are temporarily disrupting the world’s climate progress, but could ultimately accelerate the shift to clean power, Kerry said.
“Things are in flux right now,” and there is “a momentary hold, really, on the progress we’re making,” he said. “But in the long run, I think most countries have come to understand they don’t want their source of energy to be weaponized by another country as Putin is doing, they want the freedom to be able to move to cleaner energy, and they are going to,” Kerry added. “So I think it could wind up actually accelerating the transition.”
Kerry, who was interviewed on the sidelines of the MIT Climate Grand Challenges event in Boston, hailed advancements in renewable power and battery storage, but said more investment is needed to accelerate transformational clean-energy technology.
“This is like a triple Manhattan Project we ought to be involved in,” he said. “We’re sitting on the cusp of the greatest energy transition, economically, that we’ve had since the Industrial Revolution.”