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Steam rises from the cooling towers of the Neurath lignite-fired power plant in Grevenbroich, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Photo: Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

Existing natural gas capacity could replace up to half of the European Union’s coal-fired electricity, according to a forthcoming International Energy Agency study described to Axios.

Why it matters: While still a fossil fuel and thus controversial, natural gas emits 50% less carbon than coal. So in cases where gas is displacing coal, overall CO2 emissions go down.

By the numbers: In the analysis expected to be released in July, IEA analysts found that with gas, coal and CO2 prices hovering about where they are right now — 15-20 Euros per megawatt-hour for gas, 6-10 for coal and 20-25 per ton of CO2 — existing natural gas capacity could replace up to half of existing coal electricity.

Where it stands: Environmentalists and some politicians are increasingly opposed to natural gas because they worry it's locking in far too much global warming. Looking purely at the math and science of climate change, they're right. But in this case, it’d be existing — not new — natural gas infrastructure stepping in.

One level deeper: In a new report out last week, the IEA sees little growth for natural gas in Europe over the next five years (and probably more) due to competition from renewable energy. In the meantime though, leaders there say the fuel could provide backup for variable wind and solar.

What they’re saying: “Gas of course has a much lower carbon content than any other fossil fuel. Therefore, we think gas is very important as an intermediate balancing fuel,” Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission vice president, said in an interview in May.

Go deeper: Natural gas is helping combat climate change — but not enough

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.