Copenhagen — The electric industry is a hodgepodge of interests; High-carbon coal, lower-carbon natural gas, and near-zero-carbon nuclear. Each has a lot to gain and a lot to lose depending on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate talks. And the winner will depend largely on the agreed-upon targets for reducing emissions. Carbon-heavy power generators would like far-off targets. Carbon-light companies stand to gain from near-term goals.
John Scowcroft represents a variety of interests for Eurelectric, the European association of electric power companies. One of Europe’s most prominent lobbyists on climate change, Scowcroft came here to Copenhagen to wander the halls, to “loiter,” as he put it in a recent article about industry influence on the UN process. He comes across country delegates in the conference center and does what he can to repeat the Eurelectric position: the industry needs long-range targets and an immediate and clear framework to spur investment.
Like many industries, electric power interests will host a side event next week, showcasing their assessment of how the world could become “carbon-neutral” by 2050. It’s a typical stance of carbon-heavy industries today; no longer do they fight to deny that climate is changing or that the world needs to change how it uses energy. “We have to be carbon-neutral by 2050,” says Scowcroft. “We’re looking for a framework to lead us there.”
For carbon-intensive power companies, the ideal outcome for a UN framework would feature major carbon reduction targets by the year 2050 or thereabout — allowing them to outfit their plants with technology to sequester carbon and store it underground. If faced with nearer term targets, Scowcroft adds, many companies would have to turn to natural gas — a technology investment that wouldn’t payoff in the long run.
“Natural gas would be the easiest, quickest low carbon option,” he says. “But over the long term, it still emits a fair amount of carbon. We need to make major technical investments — I’m talking about carbon capture and storage.” And that won’t be widely available until at least 2025 — assuming the industry receives plenty of political and financial help, he says.
Enter the Natural Gas Lobby. The cleanest-burning of fossil fuels, natural gas has much to gain from a UN climate treaty with aggressive short-term goals for cutting carbon emissions. Those seeking closer targets argue that the carbon capture and storage — a controversial technology — may not be widely available for at least 30 years. Natural gas — which emits about half the carbon of burning coal — is available now.
Erik Gonder represents the International Gas Union, with natural gas industry members in 71 countries. Gonder recognizes that the more strict the short-term targets, the more potential benefit to the gas industry. He’s set up an exhibit at the Copenhagen talks and is hoping to attract policymakers to the IGU’s side event later this week. The industry message? Gas is essential to a sustainable energy future – a cleaner-burning fuel that can help the world transition from coal to carbon-free power.
“That is why we would like to market natural gas more strongly than we do today,” Gonder says. The IGU — which represents 95 percent of the world’s gas market — enlists its members to lobby their governments. And the efforts have been successful, Gondor boasts. “Through our high-level members, we’re able to get into the corridors of power.” Gonder says the IGU is already preparing for post-Copenhagen talks and plans to carry the industry’s message that gas can help carry the world into a less carbon-dependent future.