Time to stop pretending that gas is a climate solution

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The “gas-is-great” rhetoric spilling out of the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting (COAG) is cause for major concern. As the coal industry continues its decline, the gas industry is circling around like a pack of vultures, ready to get their fill. Josh Frydenberg’s push to boost gas supply and lift state gas bans is a worrying move that will send the mercury rising to dangerous levels, condemn local communities to undrinkable water and wrecked farmland and throw a wrecking ball through any attempts to transition to a 100% renewable energy future.

The rosy gas agenda coming out of COAG demonstrates that the gas industry has done a good job at peddling its gas-is-great-for-the-climate propaganda. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Modelling from the International Energy Agency shows that if the planet converted heavily to “clean” gas, global temperatures would still rise by 3.5 degrees and CO2 would stabilise at 650ppm — a far cry from the less-than-350ppm levels we know are needed for a safe climate future.

Already we are seeing devastating impacts flow from the earth’s temperature rising by just 1 degree. Raise it by 1.5 degrees and we kiss goodbye to many of our Pacific neighbours. Raise it by 3.5 degrees and the storms, droughts and extreme heat we face now will become the new norm. The social and political fallout from a world that is 2.5 degrees hotter than today’s should be worrying to all of us. And yet that is the best case scenario if we give the gas industry a front-row seat in our energy future.

And I say “best case” because the IEA’s modelling doesn’t account for the gas industry’s fugitive emissions – the pollution that leaks out of wells and pipelines at every stage of the production line, yet is at best poorly measured and, at worst, covered up by the industry’s spin doctors. These leaked methane emissions are 105 times worse than CO2, which is why experts agree that they cancel out any climate benefit that gas may have been thought to offer.

We could spend the next decade patching up all these leaks, but time is not on our side in the fight to halt global warming. And wouldn’t that time be better spent building the clean affordable renewable energy we know we need?

Which brings us to the second reason why the gas-is-good argument is a mirage. Switching to gas will actively undermine the transition to a 100% renewable energy future. The IEA warns that gas could push out wind and solar if governments come under pressure to reduce renewables subsidies and opt for gas, as the industry has been urging.

If we replace coal with gas, we’ll have to build new plants and new pipelines, locking us into decades’ worth of new carbon pollution. Modelling shows that replacing Australia’s existing coal plants over the next decade with renewables, not gas, would generate 75% less carbon pollution.

We should be building the renewable energy systems we know will be required, and building them now, not investing resources in new gas infrastructure that we can’t allow to run for even a third of its normal life.

Climate arguments aside though, lifting bans on gas and opening up wells across the country would spell disaster for local communities and ecosystems. Household water setting on fire, healthy people made sick by toxic fracking chemicals in their soil and drinking water, properties nurtured over generations ripped apart by drilling, precious natural ecosystems like the Pilliga and the Kimberley laid to ruin, is this the legacy that our politicians really want to leave our kids?

If Minister Frydenberg and his mates in the states get their way, the door to the gas industry will be pushed wide open and tragic climate and community impacts will be allowed to flow out. The relationship between the gas industry and our politicians will never have been rosier. We’ve seen how hard companies like Santos have fought to block climate action before. Now is our chance to stop them doing it again. It’s time our politicians stopped their gas-is-great propaganda and instead rolled up their sleeves to get the hard but necessary work done transitioning our power systems to 100% renewable energy.

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