Energy

MIT Researchers: China Must Use More Natural Gas To Solve Global Warming

(Shutterstock/Anton Watman)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The best way to stop global warming is for China to start hydraulically fracturing for natural gas, according to research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Researchers at MIT’s Joint Program on the Policy of Global Change found that China needs to replace coal power with natural gas to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, just like the U.S. did.

Natural gas emits about half the CO2 of coal power, and is already cheaper than coal in many locations in the U.S. due to fracking.

“We believe that natural gas is a critical fuel for China’s future, and its emissions trading system (ETS) is a very important policy instrument to advance its climate goals and promote a transition from coal to natural gas,” Dr. Sergey Paltsev, an MIT researcher who coauthored the study, said in a press statement.

“Our previous work put an estimate of more than $100 billion in annual costs to the Chinese economy from air pollution impacts,” Paltsev continued. “Developing natural gas infrastructure and promoting natural gas use is an important option to address deteriorated air quality and improve living standards in China.”

MIT scientists used economic models to calculate how emissions could be reduced in the most cost effective manner possible. Researchers concluded that if China can’t futher reduce coal use to reach its 10 percent target natural gas by 2020, meeting its global warming targets will be essentially impossible.

China is working to increasingly replace coal with cleaner-burning natural gas. As a first step, the government aims to boost the share of natural gas in its primary energy supply from 6 to 10 percent by 2020. However, China doesn’t have as favorable geology for natural gas fracking as America, so it may need to import large quantites of gas.

Early projections from researchers at the Global Carbon Project found that global emissions will only rise by about 0.2 percent relative to last year, largely because U.S. CO2 emissions declined by 2.6 percent in 2015 and are expected to fall an additional 1.7 percent this year. This dramatic shift can be mostly attributed to cheap natural gas provided by fracking. Fracking  has cut American CO2 emissions more than solar or wind power, according to a study published last November by the Manhattan Institute.

America’s CO2 emissions have fallen by 12 percent since their high in 2005 primary due to fracking, not Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policies, according to reports published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The Manhattan Institute study shows solar power is responsible for 1 percent of the decline in American CO2 emissions, while natural gas is responsible for nearly 20 percent. For every ton of CO2 cut by solar power, fracking cuts 13 tons. The EIA estimates roughly 68 percent of the falling CO2 emissions are due to the switch from coal to natural gas.

Cheap natural gas provided by fracking has been good for the planet by sharply reducing CO2 emissions, according to President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

“The increased production of oil and natural gas in the United States has, obviously, been a major story in terms of our economy, and also our environment,” Moniz said at an event in Seattle. “The natural gas boom, in particular, has led to the displacement of high-carbon coal with low-carbon natural gas producing fewer [carbon dioxide] emissions.”

Even the EPA notes that rising natural gas use is responsible for falling greenhouse gas emissions, saying in an April report, “a decrease in the carbon intensity of fuels consumed to generate electricity has occurred due to … increased natural gas consumption and other generation sources.”

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