LNG tanks at the port in Shanghai Yangshan, China
A rebound in China’s greenhouse gas emissions could be good news for U.S. LNG exporters. The decline in China’s coal consumption for three consecutive years had fuelled hopes that the country’s carbon dioxide emissions might already have peaked in 2016. But coal use has been rebounding this year, and the Global Carbon Project has estimated that China’s greenhouse gas emissions for 2017 will be up about 3.5 per cent from last year.
Using gas instead of coal can be a way to cut those emissions, so long as leaks of methane on the route from well to burner are low, and it also helps cut local air pollution, which is a more immediate imperative. As a result, China is expected to be the world’s most important market for future gas demand growth, and last week, President Donald Trump was accompanied on his visit to China by U.S. companies looking for a piece of the action.
Trump was perhaps not the best salesman for the environmental benefits of US gas, given that in June he announced his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, and justified the move by arguing that China “can do whatever they want for 13 years”. Still, some US energy companies were able to come away from the trip with agreements, including Cheniere Energy, which exports LNG from Louisiana, and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp, the state-owned company that hopes to do the same from southern Alaska. Gas infrastructure was also a focus for the massive $83.7 billion investment in West Virginia that the state said was planned by China Energy Investment Corp.
It is easy to be sceptical about those agreements, which supposedly added up to a total value of more than $250 billion, and many people were. Some of the touted deals were re-announcements of existing contracts, and the big new energy agreements were non-binding memorandums of understanding. Alaska LNG, for example, is a complex and expensive project, with a cost that has been estimated at up to $65 billion, and the agreement between Sinopec and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to work together on the plan certainly does not guarantee that it will go ahead. As Josephine Mason and Chen Aizhu of Reuters pointed out, Chinese LNG buyers have plenty of other potential suppliers that they could turn to. But Mr Xi is keen to show leadership on addressing the threat of climate change, and some genuine new contracts to buy American gas seem likely to be on the way in the next year or so.
Demand for U.S. LNG could be helped by one emerging component of China’s climate strategy, a long-planned national system for trading carbon emissions, which is now close to being launched, the Financial Times reported. The EU’s emissions trading scheme has been widely criticised for failing to do enough to spur adequate cuts in greenhouse gases, but last week the European Parliament and European Council reached what was described as a “landmark” agreement to tighten the supply of allowances after 2020. In a sign of the consequences of an ample supply of allowances and low carbon prices, Germany’s energy-related CO2 emissions are expected to rise for a second consecutive year in 2017. The government said last month it expected to miss its targets for cutting emissions by 2020.
Emissions trading was also in the news in the US last week, as a result of the Democratic party’s successes in state elections. The FT’s Gregory Meyer pointed out that the states of New Jersey and Virginia were on course to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon market, and Virginia is expected to set out a new climate plan next week.
China’s success in clearing the air in Beijing has sparked envy in Delhi, where pollution “literally went off the charts” last week, hitting the maximum reading on the US embassy’s air quality index. Shivam Vij for Quartz described the deadly smog as “a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with India”.
The International Energy Agency held its ministerial meeting in Paris and launched a new initiative to help emerging economies with “clean energy transitions”. It also held a summit with government officials and energy industry leaders on carbon capture. The most interesting news out of the IEA last week, though, was its report on “digitalisation” in the industry. As Tsvetana Paraskova pointed out for Oilprice.com, technologies including advanced data analytics are already driving profound changes for energy companies.