April 18. 2024. 9:30

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Unraveling the Paradox: Biden’s LNG Policy and its Impact on Global Climate and Geopolitics


President Joe Biden’s decision to stop approving permits for new liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities in the United States has been the subject of widespread criticism across Europe. American LNG imports are of critical importance to Europe’s energy mix — writes Charlie Weimers MEP.

European imports are up over 140% since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the U.S. has directed two-thirds of its LNG exports to the European market.

The criticism of President Biden’s decision in recent weeks has focused mostly on geopolitics – stopping LNG threatens Europe’s energy security: it could force some countries back towards Russian energy sources and it restricts supply, making future price shocks more likely.

However, less discussed is that this decision, ironically, undermines global environmental efforts. This matters, because the entire justification for the U.S. ‘pause’ in granting permits was that the climate impacts need to be prioritised, even ahead of important considerations such as global security and job creation. The problem is that the Administration’s environmental case does not stand up to basic scrutiny.

That coal is substantially worse for the environment than LNG is not in doubt. A detailed Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) from the U.S.’ own National Energy Technology Lab in 2019 showed that U.S. LNG exports for European and Asian markets would significantly reduce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions when compared to coal use. The LCA also modelled the emissions of Russian natural gas. Again, U.S. LNG exports were significantly cleaner.

This makes the American decision all the more surprising, and confounding even, as the precise medium-term impact of the U.S. decision will be that coal production increases and Russian natural gas exports to Europe increase. The U.S. will either expand or restart domestic coal production to meet the demand gap caused by the halt to LNG expansion. This decision will not be the gift of the Administration: the market will demand it, and local and state officials will make the rational decision to pursue it.

Similarly, the Asian markets to whom the U.S. currently supplies LNG are not replete with options for filling the unmet additional demand in the future. Those options that do exist are not climate-friendly: domestic coal production remains high across south and southeast Asia and could easily be ramped up. China is also a significant exporter of coal and would no doubt jump at the opportunity to take some of America’s market share.

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And what of Europe? The Green Deal, for all its promises, is yet to deliver an arcadia powered by sun, wind and waves. It will not have done so by the time the effects of the LNG pause kick in – comfortably within the term of the next EU Commission and Parliament.

Where will we turn? Some, probably, to coal – Poland and Germany, for example, to Germany’s coal. Others may look east again, despite all the dangers (including higher GHG emissions). Although Qatari gas could potentially expand supply, it is hardly a more appealing supplier compared to Russia, given its financial support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, the risks and costs associated with shipments through the Red Sea are unlikely to ease in the coming years.

Consider these scenarios: rising emissions as old, dirty fuels are re-animated combined with Allies newly reliant on coal from China, or gas from Russia. It is clear that the climate case for LNG and the geopolitical case are, in fact, intertwined.

Some policy decisions – many, in fact – are essentially judgments about competing outcomes. One course of action could be environmentally beneficial, but potentially lower economic growth; another could be important for national security but risks raising emissions.

President Biden’s decision to block future LNG permits does not fall into this category. It is bad economics, bad for security, and will raise global emissions. There is no beneficial trade-off to compensate for the negative effects that will fall on America and her allies in Europe and Asia.

Europe, must not be gulled by the U.S. insistence that this is a climate-friendly measure. The science, combined with the market reality, simply does not support that claim. When a policy increases emissions, undermines alliances, and harms energy security, opposing it is the only sensible option.

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