Expand chart
Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The International Energy Agency on Tuesday issued a report making the climate case for natural gas — with important caveats — and unveiled a tool for tracking methane emissions from oil-and-gas development.

What they did: The report explores the past (see chart above) and potential of replacing coal-fired power and heating with gas.

Here are a couple of big takeaways:

  • It has already helped. IEA estimates that since 2010, coal-to-gas switching has avoided CO2 emissions that are equivalent to putting another 200 million electric vehicles on the road drawing on zero-carbon power during the same period. And there's cost-effective potential for even greater switching.
  • It beats coal despite methane. While emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from natural gas production and transport erode its CO2 benefits to a hotly debated degree, IEA says it's still a winner.
  • By the numbers: "On average, coal-to-gas switching reduces emissions by 50% when producing electricity and by 33% when providing heat," IEA said.
  • Known unknowns: One important caveat is the information gap. “We don’t know the full extent of [methane] emissions globally because we have yet to see the kind of field studies of actual emissions" as done in the U.S., Mark Brownstein, a top official with the Environmental Defense Fund, tells me.
  • Better tracking is needed. IEA, in unveiling its methane emissions tracking tool, noted "wide divergence" in estimates and called for more data.
  • Industry can do more. IEA said the oil industry can do a lot more with available tech to detect and stem methane emissions at no net cost.

What they're saying: “The issue isn’t gas vs. coal. It’s whether the oil and gas industry is doing everything possible to make emissions of methane as low as possible,” Brownstein tells me. The answer, he said, is no, even as some major companies are clamping down.

But, but, but: Coal-to-gas switching does not come anywhere close to putting the world on an emissions path that avoids blowing past the temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.

The bottom line: "It is clear that switching between unabated consumption of fossil fuels, on its own, does not provide a long-term answer to climate change, but there can nonetheless be significant CO2 and air quality benefits, in specific countries, sectors and timeframes, from using less emissions-intensive fuels," IEA said.

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

Go deeper

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m EST: 6,975,980 — Total deaths: 202,738 — Total recoveries: 2,710,183 — Total tests: 98,481,026Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats prepare new $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  4. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  6. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  7. Sports: Pac-12 will play this fall despite ongoing pandemic — Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  8. Science: Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China — During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.
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A view of Levi's Stadium during the 2019 Pac-12 Championship football game. Photo: Alika Jenner/Getty Images

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Why it matters: The conference's about-face follows a similar move by the Big Ten last week and comes as President Trump has publicly pressured sports to resume despite the ongoing pandemic. The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season, according to ESPN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
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Why it matters: Assuming one or more vaccines ultimately gain approval, there will be a period of months or even years in which supply lags far behind global demand. The COVAX initiative is an attempt to ensure doses go where they're most needed, rather than simply to countries that can produce or buy them at scale.

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