Fossil fuel use is dangerously out of sync with global goals


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A bulldozer parked near a mound of coal on the grounds of the Peabody Energy Francisco coal mine in Francisco, Indiana, United States on Thursday, September 23, 2021.

Luc Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON – As world leaders prepare for one of the most important climate summits ever, UN-backed research shows governments collectively plan to extract far more fossil fuels than would be compatible with global climate goals.

The United Nations Environment Program’s annual output gap report, released on Wednesday, found that governments were on track to produce more than double the levels of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be needed to keep global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. .

Ahead of the COP26 climate summit in just over a week, politicians and business leaders are under immense pressure to meet the demands of the climate emergency by delivering on promises made under the Paris agreement of 2015.

The Paris climate agreement aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to limit warming to the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

While every fraction of a degree counts, the ambitious goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is considered particularly important because beyond that level so-called tipping points become more likely.

The UNEP report reveals that most major oil and gas producers plan to increase production through 2030 and beyond, while several major coal producers also plan to continue or increase production.

By the end of the decade, the government’s production plans and projections are expected to lead to around 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more gas than would be consistent with limiting global heating. at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The results reaffirm the yawning gap between meaningful climate action and the rhetoric of policymakers and business leaders publicly touting their commitment to the so-called ‘energy transition’.

Political support for fossil fuels

The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, is the main driver of the climate crisis. Yet despite a wave of net zero emissions targets and increased commitments from many countries, some of the largest oil, gas and coal producers have failed to explain how they plan to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use. .

The world’s leading climatologists warned in early August that limiting global warming to nearly 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius would be out of reach for the next two decades without immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in emissions. greenhouse gas.

UNEP reiterated this point, noting that global production of fossil fuels remains “dangerously out of sync” with the limits of the Paris Agreement. He said global fossil fuel use must begin to decline immediately and sharply to be compatible with limiting long-term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report analyzed 15 major producers of fossil fuels: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States

The climate plans of the countries analyzed show that the production of oil, gas and coal was set to increase until at least 2040.

Of the three fossil fuels, gas production is expected to increase the most between 2020 and 2040, according to the report, based on governments’ plans.

Oil rigs work on platforms in Gaoyu Lake in Gaoyou, east China’s Jiangsu Province, Friday, September 17, 2021.

Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Most governments continue to provide significant political support for fossil fuel production, according to the report, with G-20 countries having committed around $ 300 billion in new funds to fossil fuel-related activities since the start of the pandemic. of coronavirus. Admittedly, this is more than what they spent on renewable energies.

Research published in the scientific journal Nature on September 9 found that the vast majority of the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to have any hope of preventing the worst effects of climate change.

It follows an explosive report from the influential, but generally conservative, International Energy Agency earlier this year. The IEA concluded that there should be no new oil, gas or coal development if the world were to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions by 2050.

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