Copenhagen Forum Sees Natural Gas as Key to Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy

COPENHAGEN - At a major event on December 12, the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF), the UN Foundation (UNF) and the Worldwatch Institute addressed the potential for natural gas to accelerate the world's transition to a low-carbon economy. The Copenhagen forum, "Natural Gas, Renewables and Efficiency: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy" brought together energy and environmental leaders from industry, government and non-governmental organizations to explore the role natural gas can play in climate action and energy security.

Over the course of the afternoon, the audience heard from a variety of energy newsmakers and experts, including:

  • Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Chesapeake Energy Corporation; Chairman of the Board, American Clean Skies Foundation
  • Christopher Flavin, President, Worldwatch Institute
  • Ian Smale, Group Head, Strategy and Policy, BP
  • U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth, President, UN Foundation
  • Vello Kuuskraa, President, Advanced Resources International

"Compared with coal, natural gas allows a 50-70 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions," said Christopher Flavin, President of the Worldwatch Institute. "It's a good complement to the wind and solar generators that will be the backbones of a low-carbon electricity system."

Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman of ACSF and Chesapeake Energy, the largest explorer of natural gas in the U.S., and Vello Kuuskraa, President of Advanced Resources International, discussed the abundance of natural gas in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

"There really has never been much debate about whether natural gas is a good fuel - its carbon light molecular structure guarantees that," commented McClendon. "The issue has always been whether there has been enough of it to begin moving our electric generation system in the United States as well as other parts of the world away from carbon-heavy coal and oil. The major natural gas shale plays in the U.S. have made it clear we have enormous reserves of natural gas to successfully address our economic, environmental and energy issues now."

In his remarks at the forum, U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth noted, "Now that economically accessible reserves in the U.S. have grown by more than 60 percent, it is important to rethink the role of natural gas in climate and energy policy. The dramatic new discoveries and reserves are almost a gift, giving us a chance to develop a faster and smoother transition toward a low-carbon economy."

The premise that brought forum organizers together is that the expanded availability of natural gas makes it possible to accelerate the decarbonization of energy supplies by substituting natural gas for coal and to a lesser extent oil. In addition, a new generation of flexible, efficient gas-fired generators will facilitate the introduction of larger shares of wind and solar power into the world's power grids.

Speakers and panelists - including Flavin of Worldwatch, Gigler of KEMA, and Smale of BP - discussed strategies for maximizing the environmental and economic advantages of growing amounts of natural gas in the world's energy system.

The event also considered the policy issues that must be addressed for gas to play its potential role - ranging from a fair and level carbon market to regulation and taxation of the gas industry and open access and fair pricing in the electricity markets.

The politics and policies from the perspective of developing countries like India were also addressed by Dr. Jyoti Parikh, Executive Director, Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe).

"North America's New Natural Gas Resources and their Potential Impact on Energy and Climate Security," a comprehensive working document authored jointly by Gregory C. Staple, ACSF CEO and respected climate policy expert, and Dr. Joel L. Swerdlow, author of the noted National Geographic Society Book, Nature's Medicine, was released at the close of the forum. The working document, which builds a case for why natural gas offers an immediate opportunity for climate action and policies for promoting the constructive transition, is available online at the ACSF Web site,