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Mat McDermott
May 30, 2012

Two days ago the IEA released its latest report on natural gas, which was dutifully picked up and reported with golden tones. Perhaps appropriate enough for a report entitled Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas. You’ve probably seen the glowing reports about how cheap it is to making fracking safer. There are plenty of them.

But too bad nearly everybody out there apparently stopped reading either the press release or the full report before they got to the part where the IEA says that ushering in a new golden age of natural gas will full and completely ruin the climate.

Joe Romm nails it, but surprisingly for him actually understates things, when he describes how both the IEA and the media missed the mark in accurately conveying the meta-message of this report.

Romm points out that it’s not until page 91 of the full report until the IEA gets into the royally ruining the climate part of increased natural gas development. Here’s the IEA (the emphasis is Romm’s):

The Golden Rules Case puts CO2 emissions on a long-term trajectory consistent with stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse-gas emissions at around 650 parts per million, a trajectory consistent with a probable temperature rise of more than 3.5 degrees Celsius (°C) in the long term, well above the widely accepted 2°C target. This finding reinforces a central conclusion from the WEO special report on a Golden Age of Gas (IEA, 2011b), that, while a greater role for natural gas in the global energy mix does bring environmental benefits where it substitutes for other fossil fuels, natural gas cannot on its own provide the answer to the challenge of climate change.

But in the press release for the report, just one page long, the IEA states things more bluntly (even if still putting the crux of the matter until the end), comparing different scenarios for natural gas development:

Energy-related CO2 emissions are higher by 1.3% compared with the Golden Rules Case but, in both cases, emissions are well above the trajectory required to reach the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C

Perhaps the IEA is still burying the lede here, but that so much of the mainstream reporting on the matter apparently failed to realize the importance of that final line of the press release is equally to blame in the grand missing the point.

If there was ever a better current example than this of fiddling while Rome burns, I haven’t seen it.