President Biden’s top official on climate change, John Kerry, told business leaders he could fathom keeping natural gas in a cleaner energy mix as a “bridge fuel” from traditional fossil fuels to a renewables-heavy future.
But, he told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Monday, that argument is only made sound by advancing the ability to capture the pollution that leaks when gas is collected and when it is burned.
“If you can capture 100% [of emissions] and it makes it affordable, that’s wonderful. But we’re not doing that,” he said.
Still, natural gas conversations are what more of the business leaders that the Chamber represents will want to be a part of, not to mention energy-state lawmakers.
So-called carbon capture, at least at a scale that will make it accessible and affordable throughout industry, remains a key targeted technology of the oil
sector and of many Republicans who want to cooperate on mitigating climate change. In one use of the technology, the carbon is buried. Captured carbon can have other uses itself, such as in building materials.
The staunchest environmental groups say pursuing emissions capture won’t go far enough to curb demand for fossil fuels. That half-measure, according to them, will slow the global pursuit of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. They instead push renewable energy sources as a full substitution.
“Many countries — most countries — have the ability to deploy very significant additional amounts of renewables, and they’re not doing it,” Kerry, the onetime secretary of state and presidential contender, said.
He also expressed worry that coal isn’t being eliminated as fast as it should. Coal to power electrical grids has been replaced in many parts of the world by cheaper natural gas. Gas was considerably cheaper than wind
for years, but these methods are more on par now, depending on region. At least in the short term, inflation is hitting solar and battery storage equipment, while a recovering economy has pushed oil and gas prices back to multi-year highs before the latest volatility around Russia and Ukraine.
“That’s a problem … there’s just no other way to cut it. Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet, no one has figured out how to make it clean, even though they talk about clean coal,” Kerry said, attributing “the worst” of climate change to coal use.
The U.S. continues to use coal in part, but it is global giant China that remains a significant coal burner, a fact that leaves most Republicans and U.S. business operators insistent that Biden and Kerry don’t move too aggressively on climate-change policy without stipulations for China.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, due to burning fossil fuels, rebounded sharply from a COVID-19 slump faster than the overall economy improved in 2021, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Rhodium Group.
analysts had expected to see a planet-warming emissions recovery as industrial output picked up and more freight moved in 2021 than 2020. Still, the growth in pollution outpaced expectations, Kate Larsen, a partner at Rhodium Group and a co-author of the report, says. Based on preliminary data for 2021, Rhodium Group estimates that economy-wide GHG emissions increased 6.2% relative to 2020, though emissions remained 5% below 2019 levels.
A warmer planet is seen exacerbating costly natural disasters, including flooding, fire, drought and hurricanes.
Kerry said the snapback in emissions is worrisome and means that the progress of the November U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow risks being lost. That conference’s final communique included a compromise on coal at the behest of China and India. Kerry said then he favors eventually eliminating U.S. subsidies for fossil-fuel drilling and mining.
“Let me be factual, above all, but let me also be blunt and hopefully motivating. We’re in trouble, I hope everybody understands that. Not trouble we can’t get out of, but we’re not on a good track,” Kerry said Monday.
Biden has taken several steps at the executive level toward slowing climate change, including a pledge to halve emissions by the end of the decade. But efforts to keep up that campaign via legislation have been much harder to achieve. Biden and Kerry have said states will have to step up, as will the private sector.
The two-day event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, among the largest business lobbies and a proponent of a market-based solution to global warming, is being held alongside officials from Egypt, which will host the U.N.’s COP27.