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Egypt Encourages Increased Car Conversions to Natural Gas, But Is it Environmentally Safe?

January 16, 2024
Photo credit: Getty.

Egypt’s Aging Vehicle Replacement Initiative, launched in 2014, has achieved a significant milestone by converting 500,000 vehicles as of April. The initiative aims to curtail fuel imports, reduce harmful emissions, and enhance road safety. As of April, Egypt successfully converted 500,000 vehicles, marking a significant milestone. The surge in  visibility is attributed to the substantial increase in natural gas refueling stations, soaring from 61 to 910 within this period. The official statement highlights the expansion of conversion centers, reaching a total of 130 by the conclusion of the fiscal year 2022/2023.

Additionally, the Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA) injected a cumulative 470 million EGP (USD 15 million) from January 2021 to June 2023 to convert 59,000 vehicles to run on natural gas. This constitutes approximately 40 percent of the converted cars in Egypt during that period.

Hailed for its lower impact on the environment, more and more countries are pushing for the switch to natural gas. However, the environmental ramifications of this shift to natural gas are drawing attention.

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, shares its origins with other fossil fuels like coal and oil, deriving from the remnants of plants, animals, and microorganisms that existed millions of years ago. While burning natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide (CO2) compared to coal, it is not without environmental impact. 

The natural gas industry is often positioned as a crucial “bridge” facilitating the transition for utilities from dependence on coal-fired power to cleaner energy sources.

Proponents argue that gas-fired power plants offer a consistent source of electricity, supporting the intermittent nature of wind and solar operations. They contend that, until more cost-effective and accessible forms of energy storage, like batteries, emerge, natural gas is a necessary complement to renewables.

Yet, climate scientists are growing increasingly concerned. They worry that extensive expansion plans for the natural gas industry might inadvertently commit the world to a high-carbon and rapidly warming future, raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of relying on natural gas as a transitional solution.

Methane, the primary component of gas, is a potent greenhouse gas, and considerable amounts escape from wells and pipelines. The petroleum industry is responsible for about a quarter of human-caused methane emissions.

Gas accounts for approximately 22 percent of global emissions from fuels, it stands below coal at 44 percent and oil at 32 percent.

COP28 was centered on language advocating the “phasing out” of all fossil fuels, with a particular emphasis on relentless campaigns targeting gas. 

Noteworthy progress has been made at COP28 in addressing the environmental impact of the gas sector. The host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), allocated USD 100 million (EGP 3 billion), and six major oil companies committed USD 25 million (EGP 700 million) each to a USD 255 million (EGP 7 billion) World Bank-managed fund aimed at assisting developing countries in reducing methane emissions.

In a significant development, up to 50 oil and gas companies pledged to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2050, cease routine flaring of gas, and nearly eliminate methane leaks by 2030. Among these commitments, 31 companies made their first-time pledge on methane reduction, and a notable portion of adherents were national oil companies, signifying a shift from their previous reluctance to join such initiatives.

Egyptian officials have seen the growing shift, and despite policies encouraging citizens to convert their cars to natural gas, the country has announced its intent to develop a comprehensive roadmap for reducing methane emissions, as announced by the Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El-Molla, during the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. 

This detailed plan is part of an agreement set to be finalized at COP28. It will receive technical support from The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), according to El-Molla’s statement on Monday, 4 December 2023.

Egypt aims to address the challenges posed by climate change and align itself with global initiatives to mitigate methane emissions. El-Molla emphasized that reducing methane emissions is a crucial component of Egypt’s carbon reduction strategy.

As outlined in its National Climate Change Strategy 2050, Egypt is actively progressing toward reducing carbon emissions and increasing reliance on renewable and alternative energy sources. This includes incorporating natural gas as a low-carbon transition fuel.

In Egypt, the daily production of natural gas has reached an average of around 6.2 billion cubic feet. Meanwhile, daily domestic consumption stands at approximately 5.9 billion cubic feet. This consumption is allocated across various sectors, with 57 percent dedicated to electricity generation, 25 percent for industrial purposes, 10 percent for petroleum and gas derivatives, 6 percent for households, and 2 percent for automotive fuel supply.

While Egypt accounts for only 0.6 percent of global emissions, the country is significantly impacted by the adverse effects of climate change, affecting its coastlines, agriculture, water resources, health, population, and infrastructure.