Gas: The lesser of two evils or a viable option?

Gas, a controversial energy source, is widely regarded as a way for African countries to wean themselves off coal and reduce emissions. It’s known as a transition fuel but what does this mean? According to Cem Gürsan, a PhD candidate at the Nijmegen School of Management at Radboud University, in the Netherlands, a transition fuel is a low-carbon fuel (such as natural gas) which is substituted for a higher-content fossil fuel (coal and oil) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Natural gas is considered as a transition fuel – a temporary solution to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while more sustainable technologies mature.

However, there is a major divide where many are opposed to gas but others are serious proponents of its use. 

An example is Mary Robinson, the former UN envoy. Speaking to The Guardian, Robinson made the case for gas by saying African countries had a demand for energy and that gas was crucial to achieving a just transition. She also called for developed countries to stop using gas, so that a climate breakdown could be avoided.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development explored the use of gas in a study. 

“The gas industry has long proposed that their product can act as a ‘bridge fuel’ that facilitates the transition from high- to low-carbon energy systems. 

“This notion is now obsolete as unsubsidised renewable energy in the form of wind and solar has already been successfully developed in South Africa, and is significantly cheaper than any gas-to-power options, in addition to the benefits of higher job creation per unit of energy, reduced environmental impact, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and not being subject to fuel price volatility. There is no need for gas as a bridging fuel for bulk electricity supply,” it said.

When asked if gas was a viable option for African countries, Vincent Obisie-Orlu, a natural resource governance researcher, told the Mail & Guardian that the answer was yes and no. 

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