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Report: World’s dash for natural gas endangers climate goals

A jetty is seen at the construction site of the Uniper Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal at the Jade Bight in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea coast, northwestern Germany on Sept 29, 2022.
(FOCKE STRANGMANN / AFP)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt – Countries scrambling this year to source more natural gas to replace supplies from Russia are risking years of emissions that could thwart climate goals, the research collaboration Climate Action Tracker said on Thursday.

Efforts to stave off disastrous climate change collided this year with a global energy crisis of scarce gas and soaring fuel prices, as Russia sharply cut gas deliveries to Europe following the crisis in Ukraine. 

The planned projects could emit 10 percent of the world's remaining carbon budget – the cumulative amount that can be emitted if warming beyond 1.5C is to be avoided, according to the research collaboration Climate Action Tracker

"We're witnessing a major push for expanded fossil gas LNG production and import capacity across the world – in Europe, Africa, North America, Asia and Australia – which could cause global emissions to breach dangerous levels," said Bill Hare, CEO of research institute Climate Analytics, which together with NewClimate Institute forms Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

The planned projects could emit 10 percent of the world's remaining carbon budget – the cumulative amount that can be emitted if warming beyond 1.5C is to be avoided, CAT said. Among the projects are new gas drilling in Canada and liquefied natural gas (LNG) import capacity in Germany.

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Countries agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change to attempt to stop greenhouse gases heating the planet to more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Scientists have said going past 1.5C of warming would unleash far more severe climate impacts than the deadly wildfires, floods and rising seas already unfolding today. Currently, the world is 1.2C hotter than pre-industrial levels.

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By October, Russian gas had plummetted to 7.5 percent of Europe's gas imports, down from 40 percent in recent years.

The dash to replace those supplies has bolstered plans to expand fossil fuel infrastructure, even as the European Union has proposed higher renewable energy targets to attempt to mostly replace Russian fuel with clean energy.

The International Energy Agency has said no new oil and gas fields should be opened if the world is hit the 1.5C goal.

CAT also calculated that countries' targets to cut emissions this decade would put the world on course for 2.4C of warming, versus 1.8C in a best-case scenario where countries achieved all of their announced pledges including 2050 goals – which would require tougher climate policies and far larger investments to shift to green energy.

FAO sustainability plan

Meanwhile, the UN food agency aims to launch a plan within the year to make the world's food system more sustainable, a senior executive told Reuters on the sidelines of the COP27 climate talks in Egypt.

The plan would show how the food industry and farming can align with the world's goal of capping global warming at 1.5C, Food and Agriculture Organization Deputy Director Zitouni Ould-Dada said.

The hope is that such a plan would act in a similar way to the release of a report for the energy sector by the International Energy Agency, which spurred investment into companies, projects and technologies aligned with the plan.

"It's much needed because for the energy sector there are clear roadmaps which really attracted a lot of investors… but for agriculture we don't have such a map," Ould-Dada said.

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More than forty investors managing a combined $18 trillion urged the FAO in June to create a plan to curb emissions in the sector, often overlooked in global warming debates yet one of the biggest sources of climate-damaging emissions. 

Food production accounts for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the main threat to 86 percent of the world's species at risk of extinction, while cattle ranching is responsible for three quarters of Amazon rainforest loss.

Livestock accounts for nearly a third of the global methane emissions linked to human activity, released in the form of cattle burps, manure and the cultivation of feed crops.