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Campaigners cry 'insanity' as UNEP postpones frozen gas report

Oliver Tickell

18th November 2013

UNEP today postponed the launch of a highly controversial report - branded as "lunatic" by climate campaigners - at the COP19 talks in Warsaw.

We must fight this lunacy!

The report, On Gas Hydrates, had attracted huge attention from scientists, journalists and campaigners as press releases indicated that UNEP supported the large scale exploitation of methane hydrates - a frozen form of methane that is globally abundant in submarine deposits around continental shelves.

The press release from UNEP stated: "An abundant, untapped and potentially viable source of energy rests deep within the earth’s polar soils and sea floors, encased in ice-like deposits rarely glimpsed by human eyes. Methane hydrates are combinations of methane and water that form naturally and in great quantities in polar or sea floor sediments."

"They are also a  potentially immense source of energy. A new report by the UN Environment Programme explores how methane hydrates can contribute to a healthy global energy mix."

John Nissen, who heads the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, said: "This is pure insanity!  What does UNEP think it's doing?  Does it have no understanding of what is actually happening in the Arctic?  Does it have no idea of the impact of sea ice disappearance?  Has it now idea how close we are to a point of no return? We must fight this lunacy!"

The report was to have been launched this Monday morning at 11am by co-authors Yannick Beaudoin (UNEP / Grid Arendal) and Sung-rock Lee (Principal Research Scientist, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM)). But the event was cancelled without notice or explanation to the delegates who gathered at the Press Room in Warsaw's National Stadium.

It is controversial for two main reasons. First, the large scale use of the colossal reserves of methane hydrate that exist around the world would completely destroy any hope of limiting carbon emissions to any 'carbon budget' that would retain the world's climate stability.

Second, many of the methane hydrate deposits are vulnerable to disturbance and any drilling activity could lead to enormous atmospheric methane releases. This could have terrible impacts on the global climate as methane is a greenhouse gas hundreds of times more powerful than carbon dioxide on a decadal time scale.

"The  UNEP press announcement views  hydrate mining  as an unalloyed benefit without mention of need to ensure extraction doesn 't accelerate releases", commented John Topping, President of the Climate Institute.

"This resembles an announcement that nuclear war has a bright side - it will immediately move  world population levels  to a more sustainable level. Let's hope the full report  is more nuanced than the press release."

A UNEP spokesman said the launch of the report had been stopped as "several errors" had come to light. The report would not now be issued "for a few weeks" - in other words well after the end of the Warsaw climate talks.


 

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