Natural Gas’ Changing Discourse in European Decarbonisation

  • John SzaboEmail author


Natural gas plays a key role in the European Union’s energy system, which is partially predicated on its favourable environmental characteristics. These qualities have allowed key stakeholders to facilitate a positive discursive and ideological inscription of the fuel to ensure their continued ability to capitalise on it. European Commission-led climate action poses a significant challenge to the status quo, which industry incumbents first sought to address by promulgating the message that natural gas is the transition or bridge fuel to a renewable society. As it became clear that this would not be sufficient to maintain the fuel’s role in EUʼs future energy mix, producers and infrastructure owners devised energy futures in which they would complement and gradually substitute natural gas with sustainable (biomethane) and decarbonised (hydrogen) forms of gas. Discourse on the role low carbon gases can play in EU’s decarbonisation proliferated, partly due to the limitations of electrification and renewables, but also reflecting the deep entrenchment of ideas society pairs with the (fossil) fuels it relies on.


Natural gas Discourse Transition fuel Climate change Inscription 


  1. Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. In L. Althusser (Ed.), Lenin and philosophy and other essays (B. Brewster, Trans.). (pp. 127–188). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, K., & Broderick, J. (2017). Natural gas and climate change. Friends of the Earth Europe. Accessed December 6, 2017.
  3. Balcombe, P., Anderson, K., Speirs, J., Brandon, N., & Hawkes, A. (2017). The natural gas supply chain: The importance of methane and carbon dioxide emissions. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 5(1), 3–20. Scholar
  4. Balmaceda, M. M. (2013). The politics of energy dependency: Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania between domestic oligarchs and Russian Pressure. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Balmaceda, M. M. (2018). Differentiation, materiality, and power: Towards a political economy of fossil fuels. Energy Research & Social Science, 39, 130–140. Scholar
  6. Banerjee, N., Cushman, J. H., Jr., Hasemyer, D., & Song, L. (2015). Exxon: The road not taken. New York: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.Google Scholar
  7. Barrow, C. W. (1993). Critical theories of the state: Marxist, neo-marxist, post-marxist. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  8. Borchardt, D. (2019). Exclusive! Borchardt (EU Commission)|From the latest Madrid forum to the next gas package. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  9. Bova, B. (2010). Return to mars. New York: Rosetta Books.Google Scholar
  10. Boyer, D. (2014). Energopower: An introduction. Anthropological Quarterly, 87(2), 309–333. Scholar
  11. Braaksma, A. (2018). Session 01.A.03: A study of scenarios to 2050 using Primes. Presented at the Madrid Forum, Madrid. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  12. Burmistrova, E. (2018). Perspectives on the future of European gas market. Presented at the ONS Conference 2018, Stavanger. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  13. Byrne, J., Toly, N., & Glover, L. (Eds.). (2006). Transforming power: Energy, environment, and society in conflict. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Cañete, A. (2016). Speech by EU climate action and energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete at the Bruegel event “How will the Paris agreement impact EU climate and energy policies?”. European Commission: Press Release Database. Accessed March 9, 2018.
  15. Cañete, A. (2017). Commissioner Arias Cañete to discuss role of gas in clean energy transition. European Commission: Energy. Accessed February 13, 2018.
  16. Cassedy, E. S. (2000). Prospects for sustainable energy: A critical assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Commission of the European Communities. (1981). Communication from the Commission to the Council Concerning Natural Gas (COM(81) 530 Final). Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. Accessed February 13, 2019.
  18. Council of the European Union. (2008). Council regulation (EC) No 521/2008 of 30 May 2008 Setting up the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. Official Journal of the European Union, (L153/1). Accessed February 6, 2019.
  19. Council of the European Union. (2014). Council regulation (EU) No 559/2014 of 6 May 2014 Establishing the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking. Official Journal of the European Union, (L169/108). Accessed February 6, 2019.
  20. Dell, R. M., & Bridger, N. J. (1975). Hydrogen—The ultimate fuel. Applied Energy, 1(4), 279–292. Scholar
  21. Ecofys. (2018). The role of renewable gas in a decarbonised energy system. Presented at the Madrid Forum, Madrid. Accessed February 14, 2019.
  22. Eikaas, S. (2017). Statoil—Strategic fit of hydrogen. Presented at the oil and gas seminar. Accessed August 21, 2018.
  23. Equinor. (2020). Renewables and low-carbon. Equinor. Accessed January 22, 2020.
  24. EU Energy Ministers. (2018). The hydrogen initiative. Linz: Federal Ministry, Republic of Austria, Sustainability and Tourism. Accessed October 29, 2018.
  25. Eurelectric. (2018). Decarbonisation pathways. Brussels: Eurelectric. Accessed February 5, 2019.
  26. European Commission. (1998). Directive 98/30/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 concerning common rules for the internal market in natural gas. Official Journal of the European Union, L204(1). Accessed May 5, 2020.
  27. European Commission. (2002). Commission to launch high level group on hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. European Commission. Accessed February 6, 2019.
  28. European Commission. (2003a). Directive 2003/55EC—Internal market for natural gas. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed 21 April 2018.
  29. European Commission. (2003b). Hydrogen energy and fuel cells: A vision of our future (No. EUR 20719 EN). Brussels: European Commission: Directorate-General for Research and Directorate-General for Energy and Transport. Accessed February 6, 2019.
  30. European Commission. (2008). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions—20 20 by 2020. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed August 7, 2019.
  31. European Commission. (2009). Directive 2009/73/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 concerning common rules for the internal market in natural gas and repealing Directive 2003/55/EC. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed April 21, 2018.
  32. European Commission. (2011). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed November 21, 2017.
  33. European Commission. (2015). Energy union package: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank. A framework strategy for a resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed February 19, 2018.
  34. European Commission. (2016). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank. Clean Energy for All Europeans. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed August 17, 2018.
  35. European Commission. (2017). Projects of common interest—Energy—European Commission. Energy. Accessed November 16, 2017.
  36. European Commission. (2018). A clean planet for all: A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy (COM/2018/773 final). Brussels: European Commission. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  37. European Gas Advocacy Forum. (2011). The future role of natural gas. Accessed March 14, 2019.
  38. Eurostat. (2020). European Commission > Eurostat > Energy > Data > Database > Energy (nrg) > Energy statistics—Quantities, annual data (nrg_quanta) > Energy balances (nrg_bal) > Complete energy balances (nrg_bal_c). Eurostat. Accessed January 27, 2020.
  39. Fairclough, N. (2013). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Fairclough, N., & Graham, P. (2002). Marx as a critical discourse analyst: The genesis of a critical method and its relevance to the critique of global capital. Estudios de Sociolinguistica, 3(1), 185–229. Accessed March 10, 2018.
  41. Foucault, M. (2012). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  42. GasTerra. (2009). Natural gas as a transitional fuel: For a sustainable energy future. Groningen: GasTerra. Accessed February 7, 2019.
  43. Gazprom. (2007). Environmental report 2007. Moscow: OAO Gazprom. Accessed January 30, 2020.
  44. Gazprom. (2009). Sustainability report 2008–2009. Moscow: Gazprom. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  45. Gazprom. (2018). Gas use in vehicles. Gazprom. Accessed August 22, 2018.
  46. GIE. (2019). GIE vision 2050. Brussels: Gas Infrastructure Europe. Accessed February 22, 2019.
  47. Hajer, M. A. (1995). The politics of environmental discourse: Ecological modernization and the policy process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Hausmann, P., Sussmann, R., & Smale, D. (2016). Contribution of oil and natural gas production to renewed increase in atmospheric methane (2007–2014): Top-down estimate from ethane and methane column observations. Atmospheric Chemistry Physics, 16(5), 3227–3244. Scholar
  49. Herzog, H. (2018). Carbon capture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hoffmann, P. (1981). Forever fuel: The story of hydrogen. Accessed February 3, 2020.
  51. Högselius, P. (2012). Red gas: Russia and the origins of European energy dependence. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  52. Högselius, P. (2013). The European natural gas industry and the oil crisis of 1973/74. Accessed May 29, 2019.
  53. Howarth, D. (2010). Power, discourse, and policy: Articulating a hegemony approach to critical policy studies. Critical Policy Studies, 3(3–4), 309–335. Scholar
  54. Howarth, R. W. (2014). A bridge to nowhere: Methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas. Energy Science & Engineering, 2(2), 47–60. Scholar
  55. IEA. (2011). World Energy Outlook—2011 edition. Paris: IEA/OECD.Google Scholar
  56. IEA. (2017). World energy outlook 2017. Paris: IEA/OECD.Google Scholar
  57. IEA. (2018). World energy outlook 2018. Paris: OECD/IEA.Google Scholar
  58. IEA. (2019). The future of hydrogen. Paris: IEA/OECD. Accessed July 25, 2019.
  59. IPCC. (1990). Climate change—The IPCC scientific assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Accessed October 30, 2018.
  60. IPCC. (1995). IPCC second assessment full report—IPCC. Accessed October 12, 2019.
  61. IPCC. (2006). Guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories. International panel for climate change. Accessed March 8, 2018.
  62. IPCC. (2007). IPCC fourth assessment report: Climate change 2007. Intergovernmental panel on climate change. Accessed November 5, 2017.
  63. IPCC. (2014). Fifth assessment report—Mitigation of climate change. Accessed October 7, 2017.
  64. Jessop, B. (1991). Accumulation strategies, state forms, and hegemonic projects. In S. Clarke (Ed.), The state debate (pp. 157–182). London: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Johnstone, P., & Newell, P. (2018). Sustainability transitions and the state. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 27, 72–82. Scholar
  66. Jørgensen, M. W., & Phillips, L. J. (2002). Discourse analysis as theory and method. London, Thousand Oaks, & New Delhi: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  67. Kinder, J. (2016). The coming transition: Fossil capital and our energy future. Socialism and Democracy, 30(2), 8–27. Scholar
  68. MITEI. (2011). The future of natural gas. An interdisciplinary MIT study. MIT energy initiative. Accessed November 5, 2017.
  69. Nakićenović, N. (1994). Energy gases—The methane age and beyond. Laxenburg: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Accessed March 13, 2019.
  70. Oberthür, S., & Kelly, C. R. (2008). EU leadership in international climate policy: Achievements and challenges. The International Spectator. Italian Journal of International Affairs, 43(3), 35–50.
  71. Paterson, M., & Grubb, M. (1992). The international politics of climate change. International Affairs, 68(2), 293–310. Scholar
  72. Pemberton, M. (2008). The iron pirate: A plain tale of strange happenings on the sea. Gloucaster: Dodo Press.Google Scholar
  73. Petrocultures Research Group. (2016). After oil. Edmonton: Petrocultures Research Group. Accessed March 28, 2018.
  74. Pettenger, M. E. (Ed.). (2016). The social construction of climate change: Power, knowledge, norms, discourses. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  75. Purvis, T., & Hunt, A. (1993). Discourse, ideology, discourse, ideology, discourse, ideology… The British Journal of Sociology, 44(3), 473–499.
  76. Romm, J. J. (2004). The hype about hydrogen: Fact and fiction in the race to save the climate. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  77. Sandbag. (2019). EUA prices. Accessed October 29, 2019.
  78. Scrase, J. I., & Ockwell, D. G. (2010). The role of discourse and linguistic framing effects in sustaining high carbon energy policy—An accessible introduction. Energy Policy, 38(5), 2225–2233. Scholar
  79. Seto, K. C., Davis, S. J., Mitchell, R. B., Stokes, E. C., Unruh, G., & Ürge-Vorsatz, D. (2016). Carbon lock-in: Types, causes, and policy implications. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 41(1), 425–452. Scholar
  80. Shiryaevskaya, A. (2018). Russia looks to hydrogen as way to make gas greener for Europe. Bloomberg. Accessed December 20, 2018.
  81. Simson, K. (2019). Answers to the European Parliament Questionnaire to the Commissioner-Designate. Brussels: European Commission. Accessed February 1, 2020.
  82. Smil, V. (2015). Natural gas: Fuel for the 21st century. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  83. Statoil. (2012). Fuelling the UK with the telegraph and Statoil. The Telegraph. Accessed May 5, 2020.
  84. Statoil. (2017). Statoil’s climate roadmap—Creating a low carbon advantage. Accessed August 21, 2018.
  85. Stephenson, E., Doukas, A., & Shaw, K. (2012). Greenwashing gas: Might a ‘transition fuel’ label legitimize carbon-intensive natural gas development? Energy Policy, 46, 452–459. Scholar
  86. Stern, J. (2017). The future of gas in decarbonising European energy markets: The need for a new approach. Oxford: The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Accessed March 9, 2018.
  87. Szabo, J., & Deak, A. (forthcoming). The CEE energy transition: Recurring 50-year-old dynamics? In M. Mišík & V. Oravcová (Eds.), From economic to energy transition: Three decades of transitions in Central and Eastern Europe. New York & London: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  88. Szabo, J., & Fabok, M. (2020). Infrastructures and state-building: Comparing the energy politics of the European Commission with the governments of Hungary and Poland. Energy Policy, 138, 111253. Scholar
  89. Szalai, P. (2017). Statoil VP: ‘Natural gas has a home in the zero-carbon world’. Accessed August 21, 2018.
  90. Szeman, I. (2016). On the energy humanities: Contributions from the humanities, social sciences, and arts to understanding energy transition and energy impasse. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  91. Szeman, I., & Boyer, D. (Eds.). (2017). Energy humanities: An anthology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Thomas, R. (2018). The development of the manufactured gas industry in Europe. In J. Craig, F. Gerali, F. MacAulay, & R. Sorkhabi (Eds.), History of the European oil and gas industry (pp. 137–164). Bath: Geological Society.Google Scholar
  93. Trinomics. (2018). The role of trans-European gas infrastructure in the light of the 2050 decarbonisation targets. Accessed February 15, 2019.
  94. Unruh, G. C. (2000). Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy, 28(12), 817–830. Scholar
  95. Verne, J. (1874). The mysterious Island. PDF Books. Accessed November 9, 2018.
  96. Weger, L., Abanades, A., & Butler, T. (2017). Methane cracking as a bridge technology to the hydrogen economy. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 42(1), 720–731. Scholar
  97. Wilson, S., Carlson, A., & Szeman, I. (Eds.). (2017). Petrocultures: Oil, politics, culture. Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.Google Scholar
  98. Zubrin, R. (2007). The hydrogen hoax. The New Atlantis, 15, 7–20. Accessed November 9, 2018.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Sciences and PolicyCentral European UniversityBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Institute of World EconomicsCentre for Economic and Regional StudiesBudapestHungary

Personalised recommendations