Shale gas could make China’s growth cleaner, but concerns exist over level of political ambition to phase out coal and meet environmental standards – new report

21 April 2015

A new report published today by the Overseas Development Institute finds shale gas could help green China’s economic growth, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and air pollution, if used to phase-out coal and aggressively expand renewables. China would also need to prioritise stricter environmental standards to protect water sources, farmland and vulnerable communities.

The report ‘Can fracking green China’s growth?’ stresses that shale gas should only serve as a ‘bridge fuel’ with the right policies in place to support a transition from polluting coal power to renewable energy.  This requires a tough national plan for China to phase out coal, shutting power plants and leaving stocks in the ground through production and export controls. Shale gas could then provide flexible back-up capacity to enable the rapid scale-up of renewables connected as a priority to the electricity grid.

Ilmi Granoff, Head of Green Growth at ODI, says “We found the role of shale gas will largely depend on how China pursues its broader climate, energy and environmental objectives. While shale gas could play a key role in China’s energy transition, the political challenges to making that happen are formidable.”

The report also looks at the shale gas industry in the US, which has achieved emissions reductions, but also continues to receive considerable public backlash due to the environmental impacts of fracking. It concludes that many of the environmental risks in the US could have been managed through existing environmental law, from which the sector was inappropriately exempted.

The environmental risks of shale gas are comparable to other industrial activities, but these can be managed where authorities enforce pollution controls and manage land planning policies to protect public welfare. The challenge in China is not a lack of environmental and safety regulation, it is the political will to enforce them due to the greater priority given to economic growth.

Download the report at Can Fracking green China's growth?