Gas producers using Cop27 to rebrand gas as transitional fuel, experts warn

Companies and financial backers are laying the groundwork for a shift in attitudes towards gas

Gas producers and their financial backers see Cop27 as an opportunity for discussions about rebranding natural gas as a transition fuel rather than a fossil fuel, experts have said.

The push is coming from the host Egypt and its gas-producing allies amid a global energy crisis compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The opportunity for this Cop is to have the discussion openly that natural gas, and in particular when combined with carbon capture, is a scalable energy solution allowing us to meet the needs of 8 billion people while still meeting our climate goals,” said Craig Golinowski, of Carbon Infrastructure Partners, a Canadian private equity fund backing projects related to fossil fuels as well as carbon capture.

Environmental experts caution that burning gas, a fossil fuel, risks increasing warming far beyond the target restriction of 1.5C required to prevent major environmental disruption.

Gas is less polluting to the climate than coal, but its production involves harmful methane, and leaks from infrastructure can cause large-scale pollution. In addition, experts such as the Washington DC-based Environmental Working Group warn that carbon capture risks delaying the essential transition away from fossil fuels, calling it a licence for the fossil fuel industry to keep polluting.

“Natural gas is really the only proven way to lower emissions at scale. If we don’t have enough energy, we get more emissions,” Golinowski said, suggesting a theory that a shortage of natural gas automatically involves increasing usage of coal rather than renewable energy sources, as many advocate. “I think the binary framing of oil and gas as bad, wind and solar as good is really a disaster,” he added.

Golinowski is not planning to attend Cop27 but will be keeping a close eye on the discussions. In particular, he said he would rely on members of the German natural gas industry and their lobbyists to advocate “for a larger global gas market”, as Germany represents the centre of a European energy crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

In the year since Cop26 in Glasgow, which included the launch of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, intended to “deliver a managed and just transition away from oil and gas production”, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s decision to halt natural gas supplies to Europe have prompted a marked shift in global attitudes towards natural gas, laying the ground for discussions at Cop27 between world leaders and gas producers about whether gas should be viewed as a transition fuel and not a fossil fuel.

“I think what we see right now, because of Russia, is that we are still going to need gas for some or whole part of this transition – no one’s naive enough to think you can turn off all gas usage tomorrow and we’re going to be fine,” said Nazmeera Moola, the chief sustainability officer at the South African investment firm Ninety One. “Then you add in the high price of gas at the moment, and it certainly starts to look attractive.”

Moola said the hunt to replace Russia’s vast gas supply to Europe was likely to influence discussions about exploring new gas reserves across Africa, despite calls to resist this in favour of meeting emissions targets, calling this shift “a new view” on exploiting African gas reserves. Asked whether this would influence discussions between the major gas producers, policymakers and diplomats gathered at Cop27, she said: “Will that conversation happen inside meetings? Sure.”

Vikram Singh, of the sustainable energy nonprofit the Rocky Mountain Institute, said: “It’s all due to the Ukraine crisis, I think we can thank Putin for that. This is Putin’s energy’s crisis, but the global north had a real chance to respond by using the opportunity to promote renewables as they adapt their own economies – but what we see is easy answers like Germany firing up coal plants and searching for new gas on the African continent.

“We know there is pressure being applied, not only by big oil and gas companies, but certain high-level delegations from the Middle East present at this year’s Cop.”

Singh said oil and gas producers were guilty of what he called “doublespeak,” on the issue of the energy transition, with public statements rarely matching their private actions.

“We were very hopeful at Cop26 to see oil and gas companies there participating. To give them credit, during recent panels we’ve participated in, oil and gas companies are saying the right things about [the energy] transition,” he said. “But behind closed doors, they’re still pushing a very dangerous product, one that in the short term is too rich for them to give up, so we find a double game at play here, and as many climate negotiations take place behind closed doors, we’re trying to shine a light on countries taking positions on issues like gas.”

Egypt’s goal to become a major natural gas exporter could also prove a boon to natural gas lobbyists and advocates attending the conference. At Cop26, fossil fuel lobbyists numbered 503 representatives, a larger amount than any single country delegation, and similar numbers were expected at Cop27.

Egypt hosted a meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum shortly before Cop27 began, including representatives from the Cop28 host, the United Arab Emirates. Ministers declared after the meeting that “Cop27 and Cop28 present a great opportunity to make a case for gas in the energy transition”, while the Cop27 president, Sameh Shoukry, recently called natural gas “a transitional source of energy”.

BP, which produces almost 60% of Egypt’s vast natural gas reserves and whose CEO, Bernard Looney, has close ties with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, declined to answer questions about its presence at Cop27, including how many delegates would be present or its aims for the conference.

In an email from March this year, provided to the Guardian via a freedom of information request made by the group Culture Unstained, the British ambassador to Cairo, Gareth Bailey, discussed BP’s plans around renewable energy sources versus natural gas with a colleague from the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office in London. “BP Egypt … was friendly but low-key about BP plans in green energy. They said they had their hands full with gas, so were unlikely to be doing much,” he said.

Representatives from countries most vulnerable to climate change were horrified by the potential push to promote natural gas at Cop27. “Anyone who’s read an IPCC or IEA report, or even their own energy bill for this winter, should know that investing in gas is the wrong choice. It’s the epitome of short-term gains for long-term losses. Renewables are already the frontrunner – that is the smart, clean, cheap investment today,” said John Silk, of the Marshall Islands, whose territory risks being partially submerged by rising oceans as soon as 2035.


Ruth Michaelson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Russian oligarchs and companies under sanctions are among lobbyists at Cop27
The heavy presence of lobbyists from Moscow suggests Russia is using the climate talks to drum up business

Ruth Michaelson and Patrick Greenfield

12, Nov, 2022 @1:10 PM

Article image
Tuvalu first to call for fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty at Cop27
Pacific islands nation, which is acutely vulnerable to sea level rises, joins nearby Vanuatu in seeking phase-out of coal, oil and gas

Oliver Milman

08, Nov, 2022 @11:30 AM

Article image
Fossil fuel firms ‘have humanity by the throat’, says UN head in blistering attack
António Guterres compares climate inaction to tobacco firms dismissing links between smoking and cancer

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

17, Jun, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Cut meat consumption to two burgers a week to save planet, study suggests
Climate crisis report says ‘we are not winning in any sector’ as experts call for urgent action on fossil fuels

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

26, Oct, 2022 @4:01 AM

Article image
100 UK universities pledge to divest from fossil fuels
Exclusive: move affecting 65% of institutions means endowments worth almost £18bn out of reach for firms

Helena Horton Environment reporter

27, Oct, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
‘Grotesque greed’: immoral fossil fuel profits must be taxed, says UN chief
António Guterres urges governments to introduce windfall levies and use money to support vulnerable people

Matthew Taylor

03, Aug, 2022 @4:50 PM

Article image
What is Cop27 and why does it matter?
World leaders, climate groups and activists are meeting in Egypt to thrash out plans on how to safeguard the future of the planet

Fiona Harvey Environment editor

07, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Firms ignoring climate crisis will go bankrupt, says Mark Carney
Bank of England governor warns of financial collapse linked to climate emergency

Damian Carrington Environment editor

13, Oct, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Old UK oilwells could be turned into CO2 burial test sites
Exclusive: Consortium of energy firms and universities says underground storage of hydrogen can also be investigated

Damian Carrington Environment editor

06, Dec, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Sunak’s windfall tax is a ‘sticking plaster’, say climate campaigners
Tax on oil and gas companies described as ‘missed opportunity’ to tackle climate and cost of living crises

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

26, May, 2022 @2:07 PM