Share on Reddit In the abstract, moving away from fossil fuels sounds relatively straightforward. But the closer you look, the more complex the challenge appears.
At the same time, it is not ruling out new permits for coal mining, offshore oil drilling and fracking during a transition away from fossil fuels. Developing new gas resources in New Zealand is a shortsighted strategy that could lead to stranded assets.
Each molecule released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels remains there for hundreds of years.
The planet is already around one degree warmer than the average pre-industrial temperature. At the current business-as-usual rate of fossil fuel combustion and deforestation, the total budget will be exceeded within 20 to 25 years.
By then, we will have used up around two-fifths of the known global reserves of coal, oil and natural gas. The remaining three-fifths will need to stay in the ground.
This argument, and the case for providing greater energy security, is being used to justify exploration for deep sea oil and gas in New Zealand waters. Displacing coal by burning conventional natural gas does indeed produce lower emissionswhile providing the same heat or electricity services.
Leakage is inevitable during the extraction, distribution and use of natural gas. It is difficult to determine the level of leakage, but it is more certain that emissions from coal or gas plants are significantly higher than from a renewable energy plant of similar generation output.
Natural gas has the potential to extend the time before the carbon budget is used up, assuming it displaces coal that would then be left in the ground.
But the use of gas cannot deliver the deep cuts in emissions that will be required to stay below two degrees. Energy security and fossil fuel subsidies Many nations, including New Zealand, aim to improve their energy security by shifting to more indigenous fossil fuel resources to reduce their dependence on imports and widely fluctuating prices.
Exploring for more gas to meet local demands at contracted prices may make good political sense in the short term, but it exacerbates climate change. Fossil fuel exploration, production and consumption is widely subsidised by many governments.
Conversely, divestment away from fossil fuel companies is growing worldwide. It also supplies arounddomestic and commercial consumers in the North Island. If all existing coal plants and heating systems were converted to gas, around 1.
Therefore, the overall aims for New Zealand should be to:Coal, crude oil, and natural gas are all considered fossil fuels because they were formed from the buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Uranium ore, a solid, is mined and converted to a fuel used at nuclear power plants.
Major fossil fuel companies face the risk that significant parts of their reserves will become worthless, with Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Exxaro owning huge coal reserves and Lukoil, Exxon Mobil, BP, Gazprom and Chevron owning massive oil and gas reserves.
Interestingly, these existing exclusions on fossil fuel exploration were not linked to climate change, but were established for other reasons, such as the risks involved. Fossil fuel exploration is an expensive, high-risk operation.
But the impacts of fossil fuels start long before their carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere. Our new research, published today in Science, looks at the effects of coal, oil and gas extraction on biodiversity. Fossil fuel exploration, production and consumption is widely subsidised by many governments.
The International Energy Agency estimated the value of consumer subsidies in was over US$ Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons, primarily coal, fuel oil or natural gas, formed from the remains of dead plants and animals. In common dialogue, the term fossil fuel also includes hydrocarbon-containing natural resources that are not derived from animal or plant sources.
These are sometimes known instead as mineral fuels.