The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report earlier this morning which contains a remarkable insight. Ottmar Edenhofer, head of the IPCC working group, told a press conference that shale gas might work as a bridge between fossil fuel dependence and renewable energy. (The report also mentions carbon capture and storage, nuclear and biofuels alongside shale as alternative energy sources.)
The IPCC is not endorsing shale or rejecting renewable energy, far from it; but it is saying that shale could be a short term measure in the long-term battle against climate change. Edenhofer’s statement effectively concedes that renewables are not yet sufficiently developed or cheap to meet our energy needs, and recognises that shale is a comparatively clean form of energy – at least next to coal. The concession exemplifies the change in the IPCC’s thinking of late – as described in these pages by Matt Ridley and Bjorn Lomberg.
The shale industry, however, has been slow to take note of this development. The statement could help them to convince the public that their business is, broadly, worthwhile. Yet, at the time of writing, Caudrilla, one of the exploration companies with an interest in shale deposits in the Bowland Basin and the South Downs, has said nothing about it. Neither has Total, the French multinational giant which recently invested in shale fields in Lincolnshire.
One of the defining features of the Battle of Balcombe was the pro-shale faction’s uniformly dreadful PR campaign. It wasn’t clear what ‘fracking’ was, how it would affect the community and whether the country as a whole would benefit both now and in the future. Instead, the exploration company was drawn into confrontation with environmental activists. Nightly TV bulletins showed children and bare-breasted hippies being dragged away by police.
The IPCC has provided the supporters of shale with a readymade argument – and not just any argument, but, potentially, a compelling one: ‘Shale is part of the solution’. It would be strange if they missed this opportunity.