3rd Dec 2023

Planned fossil-fuel production twice 1.5°C limit, UN says

  • 'We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential 'transition' fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later' said the report's author (Photo: Kjetil Alsvik/Statoil)
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Governments are planning to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed on under the Paris Climate Accord.

According to the report, backed by the United Nations and published on Wednesday (8 November), global coal production will continue to rise until 2030, and oil and gas production until at least 2050.

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"We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential 'transition' fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later," said Ploy Achakulwisut, who is a lead author on the report and a scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

More than 80 researchers from numerous universities, think-tanks, and other research organisations in over 30 countries contributed to the analysis.

Their findings show that panned coal, oil and gas production exceeds the Paris limits — by 460 percent, 29 percent and 80 percent, respectively. And the disparity between climate goals and fossil-fuel extraction plans has remained largely unchanged since 2019, when it was first quantified.

"Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and the planet," said UN secretary-general António Guterres.

Out of the 20 major fossil fuel producers, only three Paris signatories, Norway, the United Kingdom and Germany, plan to reduce production.

And none have committed to reducing coal, oil, and gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

"We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil-fuel dependence," said Guterres.

Carbon-capture dreams

In three weeks, world leaders will meet in Dubai at the 28th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP 28) to discuss how to wean the global economy off fossil fuels.

Many country representatives, including those from vulnerable island states, will seek agreement on phasing out fossil fuels.

The United Arab Emirates, which will host this year's climate summit, and the European Union also belong to this group, but have signalled their support only if it includes "unabated" in the phrasing.

This means that decarbonisation plans will allow for large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that, in theory, safely stores emissions but is currently commercially unavailable and has been heavily criticised as unviable.

This criticism was repeated in Wednesday's report. Government climate pathways assume that by mid-century, 7.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be captured, stored, and sequestered by forests or by novel carbon dioxide reduction (CDR) technologies annually.

But the report notes that 80 percent of all pilot CCS over the past 30 years have failed, amounting to only 10m tonnes of captured CO2, making up a little over 0.1 percent of stated targets.

"Given risks and uncertainties of CCS and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), countries should aim for a near total phase-out of coal production and use by 2040 and a combined reduction in oil and gas production and use by three-quarters by 2050 from 2020 levels, at a minimum," the report's authors wrote.

At the climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) in 2021, governments committed to accelerating efforts towards "the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies", but they did not agree to address the production of all fossil fuels.

"COP28 could be the pivotal moment where governments finally commit to the phase-out of all fossil fuels," said Michael Lazarus, a lead author of the report and a director at SEI.


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