Over 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 at COP26, but whether gas can serve as a bridge to lower-carbon options remains disputed. With an increasingly global supply chain, countries have different responsibilities in mitigation. We determine the global average of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from the delivery of gas-fired electricity to be 645 gCO2e kWh−1 (334–1,389 gCO2e kWh−1), amounting to 3.6 GtCO2e yr−1 in 2017 (10% of energy-related emissions). Deploying mitigation options can reduce global emissions from gas-fired power by 71% with carbon capture and storage, methane abatement, and efficiency upgrades contributing 43%, 12% and 5%, respectively. Mitigation falls within national responsibilities, except an annual 20.5 MtCO2e of ocean transport emissions. For gas to truly be a bridge fuel, countries involved with the life cycle of gas-fired power need to deploy all mitigation options while balancing the risk of locking in carbon-intensive electricity.
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S.M.J. and S.M.M. were supported by a Johns Hopkins Discovery Award. S.M.J. was supported by a Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award. D.N. was supported by NSF grant 2017789 and the Wilson E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation where she is an energy fellow.
A.P.R. has current research support from natural-gas producers and Environmental Defense Fund and is currently serving on the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Advisory Committee. The remaining authors declare no competing interests. K.S. is an employee of the company IST cube, which invests in science- and technology-driven start-ups, all unrelated to the present paper.
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This supply chain encompasses the life cycle stages, and resulting emissions, of natural gas-fired electricity generation from extraction to end-user consumption. At all stages, energy consumption leads to direct CO2 emissions. The stages that lead to upstream and downstream methane emissions are explicitly noted.
Overview of the data inputs used in the model development.
Extended Data Fig 3 Comparison of our distribution of calculated country-level life cycle emission intensities for natural gas-fired power generation compared to the distribution provided by the IEA at facility-level50.
(a) compares the distributions with electricity T&D losses included, showing an overprediction in values by our calculated results. However, (b) compares the distributions with electricity T&D losses excluded, showing better agreement between distributions. The distributions begin to deviate at percentile 60, before deviating significantly near percentile 90.
Extended Data Fig. 4 Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of countries that have gas-fired power, if CCS were to be equipped, in grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour (CO2eq/kWh).
(a) represents the spatial distribution of life cycle emissions for the 108 countries with gas-fired power if CCS were to be equipped. (b) compares the emission intensity of gas-fired power generation for each country with and without CCS using the same data as panel (a) and Fig. 2(a) from the main text, with specific countries highlighted for comparison. (c) Represents the results for the cross-section of the world’s 10 largest natural gas producers and consumers. Basemap copyright attributed to Microsoft Corporation, OpenStreetMap, TomTom and others.
Extended Data Fig. 5 Methane leakage for upstream and downstream sources reported by different sources and compared across countries. The range from Balcombe et al.1 is represented by the dashed lines.
(a) presents the upstream comparison for the UNFCCC and the EPA downstream values. (b) presents the downstream comparison for the UNFCCC and the EPA downstream values. (c) includes a smaller subset for available upstream sources in the IEA, UNFCCC and EPA. (d) includes a smaller subset for available downstream sources in the IEA, UNFCCC and EPA.
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Jordaan, S.M., Ruttinger, A.W., Surana, K. et al. Global mitigation opportunities for the life cycle of natural gas-fired power. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 1059–1067 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01503-5
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