Shale gas can help tackle climate change and should not be restricted by “green tape”, David Cameron is expected to tell the UN Climate Summit in New York today.
The Prime Minister is among 100 leaders attending the one day event hosted by UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, each of which is expected to deliver a four minute speech outlining how the world can take steps towards agreeing a binding emissions reduction deal at climate talks in Paris next year.
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According to the Telegraph, Cameron will use his slot to argue that countries must be free to cut emissions in a way that suits their economies rather than be subject to international renewable energy or efficiency targets, such as those currently being considered by the EU for 2030.
Cameron is also set to call on countries to develop more resilient economies, arguing that tackling climate change can go hand in hand with economic growth.
Downing Street sources told the Telegraph: “If you’re going to get the world’s biggest economies to stick to the 2C target, you’ve got to be serious about cutting green tape and creating green jobs.”
The UK has lobbied against renewing the EU’s green energy goals for 2030 in favour of a higher emissions target that countries could meet in whichever way they choose, including through controversial technologies such as nuclear power and shale gas.
BusinessGreen understands Cameron will also argue for the removal of “green tape” in the global solar market, claiming that border tariffs have pushed up technology costs in Europe and the US and that free international trade in clean technologies is required.
However, it is Cameron’s use of such a high profile platform to voice support for shale gas that is likely to prove most controversial with green businesses and NGOs.
Environmental groups are broadly opposed to shale gas development, arguing the fracking process used to extract gas and oil can pollute waterways and leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Scientists have also warned that as much as two thirds of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if the world is to limit global warming to an internationally agreed 2C rise above industrial levels.
Campaigners and some green business leaders fear that while the creation of a domestic UK shale gas industry may reduce emissions in the near term by replacing coal, it will also “lock in” new fossil fuel infrastructure that will make it harder to deliver deep emission cuts through to 2050.
However, shale advocates have pointed out that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said shale gas can be “consistent” with low carbon development if it replaces polluting coal power. Moreover, the potential development of carbon capture and storage technologies could allow shale gas developers to deliver deeper emission reductions in the future.
And former Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, now the Prime Minister’s Climate Change Envoy, also underlined the important role that gas could play in shifting energy sector away from coal.
“Coal is the greatest single threat to climate change and gas will play an important role moving away from it,” he told BusinessGreen in New York, where he is attending the climate summit. “If we can have more gas development in Africa and India and China then we can keep coal in the ground.”
In related news, a Manchester University study has this month found that in select cases ‘life cycle’ environmental impacts of shale gas may be better than some green technologies, primarily because of resource and energy intense manufacturing, although in many cases it may also be worse than coal.
The paper, published in the journal Applied Energy, claims shale gas has a lower impact than wind or solar in four of the 11 aspects examined: depletion of natural resources, toxicity to humans, as well as the impact on freshwater and marine organisms. Shale gas was also seen as better than solar for ozone layer depletion and eutrophication.
However, shale ranked worse than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, for three impacts: ozone layer depletion, summer smog and terrestrial eco-toxicity.
The report’s authors said that shale gas could be preferable to imported liquefied natural gas in the best case conditions and, assuming it can be extracted at a reasonable cost, could represent “a good option” for the UK.
But they cautioned that the impacts of shale gas can vary widely and tight regulation, covering emissions and disposal of drilling waste, is needed to prevent shale gas having higher impacts than coal.
“Appropriate regulation… should also discourage extraction from sites where there is little shale gas in order to avoid the high emissions associated with a low-output well,” said study co-author Dr Laurence Stamford. “Regulation should also ensure that investment in sustainable technologies is not reduced at the expense of shale gas.”