Nat Commun. 2023 Sep 16;14(1):5756. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-41527-9.
Decarbonising energy systems is a prevalent topic in the current literature on climate change mitigation, but the additional climate burden caused by methane emissions along the natural gas value chain is rarely discussed at the system level. Considering a two-basket greenhouse gas neutrality objective (both CO2 and methane), we model cost-optimal European energy transition pathways towards 2050. Our analysis shows that adoption of best available methane abatement technologies can entail an 80% reduction in methane leakage, limiting the additional environmental burden to 8% of direct CO2 emissions (vs. 35% today). We show that, while renewable energy sources are key drivers of climate neutrality, the role of natural gas strongly depends on actions to abate both associated CO2 and methane emissions. Moreover, clean hydrogen (produced mainly from renewables) can replace natural gas in a substantial proportion of its end-uses, satisfying nearly a quarter of final energy demand in a climate-neutral Europe.