The international gas lobby playbook hinges on rebranding planet-warming natural gas as green and key to energy security, new documents reveal.

To counter pressure on countries and industries to wean off fossil fuels, the International Gas Union (IGU) has co-ordinated region-specific playbooks to create room in the global market for gas. The lobby group set out to redefine the role of gas by presenting it as a green fuel and the answer to the world’s energy security woes, new research from InfluenceMap reveals in previously unseen documents.

The IGU represents over 90 per cent of the global gas market and has more than 150 members, including the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) and massive gas companies like Shell, TotalEnergies and ExxonMobil. The CGA did not respond to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment.

“The IGU's strategy is playing out through the real-world advocacy of its members, undermining climate action in major economies around the globe,” Faye Holder, InfluenceMap program manager, said in a statement.

The CGA is currently under investigation by the Competition Bureau Canada for alleged greenwashing. A group of Canadian physicians filed a complaint focusing on a CGA ad campaign from last November called “Fuelling Canada.” The website and social media campaign advertises so-called natural gas as “clean” and “affordable,” despite it being largely made up of a potent greenhouse gas called methane that does more damage to the planet in the short term than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Examples of the Canadian Gas Alliance advertising alleged to be misleading. Screenshot via the complaint filed with Competition Bureau Canada

The CGA’s messaging aligns with the IGU’s global playbook. For Europe and North America, IGU communication materials focus on “greening fossil gas” to counter “fossil phobic attitude(s).” In Global South regions, including sub-Saharan Africa and, to a lesser extent, South America, where the effects of catastrophic levels of temperature rise are most keenly felt, the strategy is to promote gas as a tool for sustainable development and meeting social needs, according to documents in the InfluenceMap report.

Members in Canada, Russia, Qatar, the U.S., Iran, Mozambique, China, Egypt, Nigeria and Australia will “play a key role in gas supply and market development” by creating new and additional natural gas production, according to the IGU.

This position is in stark contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warnings that future CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure — including coal and gas — could single-handedly exhaust the remaining carbon budget if the world plans to reach its goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C. This means there’s no room for new fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate-safe future.

The International Gas Union has co-ordinated region-specific playbooks to create room in the global market for gas to counter pressure on countries and industries to wean off fossil fuels. IGU members include Shell, Exxon Mobil and @cga_acg

To keep warming below 1.5 C, gas usage must fall an estimated 10 per cent by 2030 and 45 per cent by 2050 compared to 2019 levels, the IPCC found.

According to the IGU’s playbook of messages “to and about” North America, rapid expansion of gas production will see prices fall and the U.S. and Canada become exporters of liquefied natural gas, or LNG.

“The region’s LNG exports must continue to grow, as they bring secure energy and electricity to millions of global citizens in a way that will significantly reduce GHGs (greenhouse gases) and deadly air pollution,” the document’s message to North America reads.

Although burning gas is less polluting than burning coal or oil, methane is 25 to 80 times more powerful at trapping heat when it’s released directly into the atmosphere. Describing gas as “clean” is misleading, said the complaint filed against the CGA by Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. In 2021, the IPCC warned the world must quickly slash methane emissions to limit global temperature rise.

Down the line, Canada plans to reuse LNG infrastructure for hydrogen, according to the federal hydrogen strategy, despite experts saying to do so is not feasible and that infrastructure would have to be replaced.

Natasha Bulowski / local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer