So-called carbon-neutral liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the new spoiled child when it comes to bogus climate change arguments. The number of agreements around the world is growing exponentially. This greenwashing trend is wrong on many levels.
First, let’s be clear that we are not talking about a new or different type of fossil fuel that does not emit greenhouse gases. It is exactly the same product as regular LNG. But it is sold together with carbon offsets, to supposedly balance the climate destruction caused by the production, transportation and consumption of LNG.
This practice is absurd and illogical. Take, for example, last year’s shipment from Total to CNOOC (a French and Chinese oil company, respectively). Total and CNOOC purchased carbon credits from a Chinese wind farm to offset their own continued trade in fossil fuels. This particular wind farm was built a decade ago, which means that the credits did not contribute to reducing emissions when the agreement was signed and will not do so in the future.
In this story, a fossil fuel giant is trying to encourage others to switch to renewables while clinginging to its own highly polluting business model.
Carbon offset credits for cheap renewable energy are not the only product on the market. In fact, the aforementioned agreement also includes credits from forestry, which are at least as problematic.
Planting or protecting trees to justify burning fossil fuels basically means moving carbon from very secure storage sites – the fossil subsoil – to very vulnerable and reversible ones – the trees in a forest. It involves huge uncertainties in accounting.
And it carries risks for local communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods. Forests are also increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and a forest planted to offset emissions can, for example, go up in smoke in forest fires.
There is currently no consensus on how to calculate the total life-cycle emissions of an LNG cargo. In many cases, companies do not mention how many credits they have purchased to offset their emissions. One estimate puts total emissions from all 2019 LNG cargoes at around 1.5GtCO2e. So we are talking about 1.5 billion carbon credits needed to offset all that pollution. It is simply not realistic to have this volume of offsets, nor is it desirable. Royal Dutch Shell alone claims 50 million hectares of land to plant trees to offset the continued production and consumption of fossil fuels, which is equivalent to the size of Spain.
When it comes to “voluntary” climate action through offsetting by private companies, we should also ask: are these companies doing all they can to reduce pollution and relying on offsets only for those emissions they cannot avoid? Or are they doing what they consider the minimum to satisfy their customers and perhaps to convince policy makers that new regulation is not necessary?
Carbon neutral LNG is just one part of the gas industry’s relentless drive to commercialize its product as an important part of the transition to a sustainable world. As much as this may be a world, like paying teenage influencers to extol the virtues of cooking with gas, it is also dangerous and can have long-term consequences for policy making.
The EU is currently considering the inclusion of gas as a “sustainable” activity eligible for green finance in its new financial taxonomy.
Today there are available and economically viable technologies, such as wind and solar, to generate power without using fossil fuels (including LNG). There is enormous potential to save energy and focus on energy efficiency first.
Fossil fuels have no role to play in a decarbonized world, and relying on offsets to artificially green their credentials is nothing more than an attempt to fool consumers. The atmosphere cannot be fooled. We all have to reduce emissions and we all have to do it fast.