Shale gas rush 'a liability' in efforts slow climate change

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Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian

Achim Steiner: shale gas rush 'a liability' in efforts slow climate change

Shale gas could turn out to be "a liability" to global efforts limit climate change, the United Nations' top environmental official has warned.

Supporters of the shale gas boom, which has spread across America and more recently to Europe, claim the fuel could help wean economies off the more carbon-intensive coal,.

But Achim Steiner, who heads the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), said there was a far greater risk that the switch from coal to natural gas would only delay the much more critical energy transition from fossil to renewable fuels.

"If it is used as a means of not investing in the transition to a renewable energy economy then I think it will become a liability in our struggle to meet climate change targets over this century," Steiner said in an interview.

"If it turns into a 20 to 30-year delay to making the transition towards real low-carbon and zero-emission energy matrixes then I think it could actually become a distraction and in that sense slow down our efforts," he went on.

Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, and is lower in carbon dioxide emissions. The fuel produces methane emissions along its production line, and methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas over the short-term.

But for Steiner, the greater risk was time. He argued the rapid spread of natural gas through fracking was putting off the transition to low-carbon or zero-carbon fuels that would help limit temperature rise, and avoid a climate catastrophe.

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