Why we must #endgasnow
The IPCC have stated that we need to cut emissions 40-60% below 2010 levels by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5˚C or less. Exceeding this level of warming brings unacceptable risk of ocean acidification and irreversible climate tipping points.
We are currently on track to exhaust our 1.5˚C budget in less than six years, and continue toward dangerous levels of warming. Significant and rapid reductions in emissions are required.
Despite this, and despite declarations of climate emergency, we are making little progress on decarbonising heating of buildings. Last year, over 1,760,000 gas boilers were installed in the UK, locking in another decade of emissions for millions of buildings. It is time to stop installing gas and other fossil fuel based heating systems, and accelerate deployment of low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps.
There are few global emissions pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot. To avoid the use of unproven carbon capture technologies, emissions need to reduce around 60% below 2010 levels by 2030. ©IPCC, 2018
What about carbon offsetting?
Some organisations are pretending that they can keep burning gas and other fossil fuels because they have bought carbon offsets. These offsets may come from preventing emissions somewhere else, or from removing atmospheric carbon, for example by planting trees or restoring wetlands.
There are several problems with this approach:
1 - Rapid emission reductions are required everywhere
2 - Atmospheric carbon removal capacity is oversubscribed by hard-to-treat sectors such as aviation and agriculture
3 - Huge amounts of carbon already need to be removed from the atmosphere to stabilise the climate and stop ocean acidification.
We just don’t have enough space for natural solutions to remove the additional carbon caused by heating buildings, so it is not a scalable approach. Technical solutions to remove carbon are commercially unproven at scale, and likely to be expensive.
The simplest, safest, and fastest solution is to leave fossil fuels in the ground, where they provide stable reservoirs of carbon. Recent studies have shown that most fossil fuels need to stay in the ground: 89% of coal, 58% of oil and 59% of gas.
What about the gas boiler phase out?
The government has suggested gas boilers may be phased out in new homes by 2025. It’s clear that this is too late and would result in millions of gas boilers being installed at a time when we need to be aggressively reducing emissions.
Wasteful and expensive scrappage schemes would then be required to remove gas heating systems from millions of homes.
What about 'hydrogen ready' boilers?
Green hydrogen is not available in sufficient quantities to decarbonise heating within the timescales required. Its production and use is also inefficient, so it is likely to be expensive and would require huge amounts of additional renewable energy to produce at scale.
Blue hydrogen does not offer low carbon heating. Several studies have shown that lifecycle emissions could match or exceed those of burning natural gas. Burning hydrogen in air also generates air pollution, regardless of how it is produced, harming urban air quality.
What about 'green' gas?
You may have heard that as well as the climate emergency, there is also a biodiversity crisis. This is mainly due to fragmentation and destruction of natural habitats by agriculture, infrastructure and other human activities.
As use of green gas at scale would involve endlessly growing huge amounts of crops, it is unlikely to be compatible with ecologists’ recommendations to restore 50% of land to nature. Producing it also displaces land that can be used for food production, and burning it creates carbon dioxide and air pollution.
The double impact of low carbon heating
Preventing the installation of new or replacement gas boilers cuts off the flow of money to the fossil fuel industry. This includes boiler manufacturers, gas extraction and refining, gas network operators, gas retailers, and gas installers. It creates a positive impact by redirecting cash flows toward the industries we need to build a positive net zero carbon future, such as heat pump manufacturers, renewable electricity generators, the electricity grid, electricity retailers, and heat pump installers.