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Fracking – four things UN climate negotiators need to know

Fracking [Related Image]
Governments cannot frack with one hand and sign this agreement to tackle climate change with the other. Truthout.org under a Creative Commons Licence

UN climate negotiations began on 4 June and will continue until 15 June. The talks in Bonn, Germany prepare the ground for discussions by heads-of-state in Lima at the end of this year. They will focus on contributions to the Kyoto agreement and also a new agreement for post-2020 climate action, expected to be agreed in Paris in 2015.

‘Fracking’ is a process of extracting shale gas or coal-bed methane through a dangerous and highly polluting mining process. Communities around the world are resisting fracking and calling for just and sustainable alternatives such as community- owned renewable power.

Here are four things that UN climate negotiators need to know:

1. Fracking and climate change solutions are not compatible.

If governments are to take seriously the urgent challenge of climate change and to reduce emissions in line with science and equity, then fracking is not an option.

Burning more gas, from increasingly extreme sources like shale or coal bed methane, will prevent governments from meeting targets on emissions reduction. Shale gas and coal bed methane are not  the ‘bridging fuels’, that gas industry marketing departments are trying to convince us they are. Liquid ‘natural’ gas from fracking needs to be supercooled and liquefied for shipping and the energy needed for that, as well as all the potential leaks from fracking wells, makes the carbon footprint of fracking worse than coal.

As 350.org founder Bill McKibben says: ‘This is not a bridge; it’s just a rickety pier stretching further out into the fossil fuel lake’.

2. Strong commitments to action on climate change could prevent fracking.

Governments are meeting at the UN climate talks because they urgently need to agree equitable and just action to tackle climate change. The negotiators have set the target of November 2015 to make a legally binding agreement on climate change, including emissions reduction targets.

But fracking is a dirty fuel with a high carbon footprint so states cannot frack with one hand and sign this agreement to tackle climate change with the other. Many groups and individuals are willing to fight decisions that not only contribute to climate change but also infringe individual rights, such as the British government’s proposed bill to change trespass laws to allow fracking firms to drill under private land without the owner’s permission.

3. Fracking distracts us from real solutions to climate change.

Fracking is a dirty distraction from what our governments should really be supporting: local communities finding sustainable solutions to their energy needs.

When politicians support fracking they are supporting ‘business as usual’ for the big oil and gas companies. Instead governments should fund energy projects that can be locally owned and maintained.

4. The disastrous economics of fracking are heightened by climate change.

The emissions reductions from all dirty fossil fuels that governments are urgently required to make in order to prevent runaway climate change means that 80 per cent of estimated fracking reserves will need to remain in the ground. This is known as the ‘unburnable carbon’.

As well as keeping coal in the ground, global temperatures will need to stay below a 1.5 degree rise. The International Energy Agency predicts that the exploitation of unburnable carbon from shale would put CO2 emissions on a ‘trajectory consistent with a temperature rise of more than 3.5 degrees in the long term’.

The legally binding climate agreement to replace Kyoto, expected in 2015, could block governments from being able to exploit shale gas and coal bed methane. Emissions from such extreme fossil fuels could be prevented under the emissions reduction targets of the agreement.

With so much to lose in this speculation game, it’s evident that gas companies will not easily give up on state contracts.. But every dollar that countries invest in fracking is a dollar not invested in renewable energy solutions. It is money wasted on infrastructure that, if governments are serious about a low carbon future, will soon be surplus to requirements.

Jamie Gorman works for Young Friends of the Earth. Follow the organization at the UN climate intersessionals in Bonn for further updates and analysis. Via Twitter, Facebook, our blog and Flickr.

Get the lowdown on fracking with New Internationalist's Frack Files pdf.

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