The fossil fuel industry is experiencing a remarkable rebound, with sudden momentum behind more than 80 projects that range from coal-fired power plants to hulking gas export terminals, many of which could lock the world into decades of new greenhouse gas emissions.
This is true not just in Europe, where there are 7 new natural gas projects under construction and another 33 in various stages of planning. Another 24 projects are also being pursued in the United States.
Global investment in new natural gas infrastructure is projected to surge to $42 billion in 2024, a jump of 50% what it is this year. The result is that the worldwide supply of liquefied natural gas will nearly double by 2030.
The United States, which already exports more natural gas abroad than any other country, will be positioned to ship nearly 50% more with the pending completion of 3 projects that are far along in construction.
Among the resurgent gas projects in Europe is one planned near Hamburg that appeared doomed only late last year. A key partner in the project had to bail after its plans to supply Germany with gas extracted and shipped from Canada were nixed by the Canadian government, which judged the $14 billion endeavor a climate hazard. Canada’s environment minister called the blueprints to export natural gas “in no way justifiable.” Now it’s among the many revived fossil fuel developments around the globe back on a fast track, with Germany scrambling to build new terminals and fracked natural gas from the United States replacing the Canadian fuel supplies that were blocked.
In Germany alone, 21 coal-fired power plants are being reopened or have had their closings postponed.
“If all of that new infrastructure is built and used until the end of its lifetime, there is no chance of meeting the goals in the Paris agreement,” said Niklas Hohne, founder of the NewClimate Institute think tank and an emissions scholar at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“The plan was not to build any new infrastructure, because everything new you build has to run for 20 or 30 years to pencil out, long past the point we want to be off fossil fuels,” Hohne said. “But now all these projects are on the table again.”
The International Energy Agency projects the fervor for fossil fuels will quickly fade. Few of the planned developments, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said, make economic sense in an era when the cost of solar and wind installations have plunged.
“Many of these projects, I believe, will stay in the box,” Birol said. His agency’s new World Energy Outlook report shows clean technologies advancing so rapidly that overall fossil fuel use will peak within a few years and then be in permanent decline.
Yet big fossil energy companies are moving ahead, assuring investors that there will be a market for the fuel. The reception they are getting from regulators is far more solicitous than before the invasion of Ukraine, and in many cases large public subsidies for projects are on the table, despite a pledge by every Group of 20 nation to stop subsidizing electricity powered with fossil energy. Every one of those countries continues to subsidize it, according to the U.N. emissions gap report.
“The idea that we can do a little more gas and then move onto renewables does not work anymore,” said Hohne, the NewClimate Institute founder, who was a contributor to the U.N. emissions gap report. “There is no more space in the carbon budget for that like there was 10 or 20 years ago.”
“For every $1 invested in low-carbon energy supply, $1.10 is invested in fossil fuels. Go figure,” John F. Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, said at a recent event at the Council on Foreign Relations.