Latest IGU report: alarming gas-to-coal switching requires low-carbon solutions

The International Gas Union (IGU) assesses the global natural gas trade in 2020-21 in a report released in May 2022. The report also discusses the need for long-term alternatives to natural gas to reduce CO2 emissions from the power generation sector.

In May 2022, the International Gas Union (IGU) released a global gas report, which covered global trade over the 2020-2021 period (i.e. prior to the conflict in Ukraine). [1]


LNG global trade in 2020-21

According to the IGU, global LNG trade grew by 2% to reach 362 million tonnes in 2020. Demand in Asia recovered in the fourth quarter, and prices climbed to record levels in 2021 as Europe and Asia competed for LNG supply. China overtook Japan as the world’s largest LNG importer.

Despite reaching record high prices in 2021, investment in new production capacity and LNG liquefaction remained low, given the uncertainty over gas pricing and demand visibility in the medium term. Complicating matters, numerous liquefaction projects have been delayed due to the pandemic, with only one project sanctioned in 2020. Three liquefaction projects were approved in 2021.


Rising emissions from the energy sector

Unfortunately, emissions have been on an upward trend since 2020, especially in the power generation sector. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the second half of 2021 was marked by sharp increases in the price of natural gas, prompting substantial switching to the use of coal to generate electricity in major markets, including the United States, Europe and Asia. [2]

As a result, global CO2 emissions have risen 6% between 2020 and 2021 according to the IEA. [3] It should be noted that gas-to-coal switching has amplified in 2022 due to the global energy supply crunch of 2021-2022 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict of 2022. According to the IGU, to reverse this rising emission trend, global energy demand-supply will need to be rebalanced, along with appropriate emissions control pricing, carbon and pollution policies.


Low-carbon alternatives to natural gas

The IGU also acknowledges that natural gas represents a short-term solution to reduce direct emissions by replacing coal and oil. Progressively, low-carbon and zero-carbon gases, such as hydrogen, biomethane and natural gas with carbon capture, will support deeper decarbonisation across sectors, alongside renewables. For instance, the IGU reported around 770 biomethane plants worldwide, mainly in Europe and China. Germany was the largest biomethane producer in 2021, with 194 plants producing a total of 8.8 TWh, while China had 48 large-scale operational plants with an expected biomethane production of 3,650 GWh per annum.




[1] IGU. Global gas report. May 25, 2022.

[2] IEA (2021), Coal-Fired Power, IEA, Paris.

[3] IEA (2022), Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021, IEA, Paris.