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What role for natural gas in the transition towards a low-carbon economy?

The present study explores the potential role of natural gas in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, a milestone for the achievement of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015.

The place of natural gas in contemporary energy and economic systems has grown steadily over the past four decades, in parallel with the development of international trade in this energy commodity. Long considered an unwanted by-product of oil, natural gas has seen its use, as a fuel and/or feedstock, extend to activities as varied as the generation of electricity (40% of current use) and heat, the production of steel, cement, hydrogen and chemicals, being used also in transportation, and so on.

Among all primary energy sources, natural gas enjoys a special status. While being a fossil fuel, it emits respectively 30% and 45% less CO2 than oil and coal upon combustion. Natural gas being rightfully perceived as “the least harmful fossil energy” from a climate perspective accounts for the often advanced vision of a “transition fuel”, but also the controversies that its production, transport and use give rise to from the point of view of the invariable horizon of transition policies, namely carbon neutrality by 2050.

The purpose of this document is twofold:

(1) By providing an in-depth analysis of the underlying value chain, the current uses and environmental externalities of natural gas, it aims to clarify the role this molecule can play to support the transition toward a zero-carbon economy

(2) It also aims to determine the future role of existing natural gas infrastructures in such a zero-carbon economy, particularly in light of the current emergence of low-carbon gases such as biomethane and green hydrogen.