Rise in natural gas drives increase in global carbon emissions


Tyler Chalfant | December 10th, 2019

As representatives from nearly 200 countries meet to discuss limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a study released last week shows that global fossil emissions have risen for a third year in a row. This rise is largely due to an increase in the use of natural gas that has outpaced the decline of other fossil fuels, including coal.

The growth in emissions largely comes from China and India. While emissions in North American and European countries are gradually declining, these countries still consume 5 to 20 times as much oil per capita as China and India. Therefore, as car ownership and air travel in Asia increase, global oil consumption is expected to rise.

This prediction is part of a larger trend. Natural gas, often viewed as a cleaner “bridge fuel” used to replace coal and other fossil fuels, as well as renewables, are being used to provide new energy to new consumers, not just replacing other fossil fuels. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, but has been presented by energy companies as a long-term solution. 

As coal has declined in recent years, the U.S is projected to see a 3.5% rise in natural gas use in 2019. The University of Iowa has increased natural gas use, rising 61% between 2014 and 2018, as the primary means of displacing coal in its power plant. When University President Bruce Harreld declared a climate crisis on Monday, he said that the university wants to substitute natural gas as well and move towards biomass.

Because of these trends in oil and natural gas use make it likely that we will see another increase in carbon emissions in 2020. One major obstacle to meeting the goal of a 2 degrees Celsius increase limit, set in the Paris Climate Agreement, is establishing international carbon markets, an issue that could be decided in Madrid this week. 

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