New study: unburnable fossil fuels – what and where?

A new study argues that much of world’s known and extractable fossil fuel reserves and even more of potential fossil fuel resources must stay buried to prevent damaging climate change.

Modelling, published in the journal Nature, shows for the first time which fuels in which countries would have to be abandoned to prevent temperatures rising above 2 degrees C.

The authors, Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins, suggest that a third of known oil reserves, half of gas and over 80% of coal reserves need to remain unused from 2010-2050 to avoid exceeding 2 degrees of warming.

In the US, Australia and the former Soviet Republics at least 90% of coal reserves should stay underground.

The Middle East needs to abandon 38% of its oil and just over 60% of gas

All Arctic oil and gas should be classified as unburnable

Any increase in unconventional oil production is regarded as “incommensurate” with the 2 degrees limit.

Gas plays an important part in displacing coal in power and industrial sectors in many decarbonisation policies. But the modelling, which assumed that the fossil fuels that are cheapest to exploit would be used first, concludes that unconventional gas resources cannot be additional to current levels of coal production. 80% of the large potential unconventional gas resources in China, India, Africa and the Middle East are unburnable before 2050, the authors say.

The modelling looks at the impact of carbon capture and storage (CCS) on how much fossil fuel reserves could be burned. The use of current reserves is lower in nearly all regions for all fuels when CCS is not available. But the study finds that because of the expense of CCS and its late likely date of introduction, CCS has a relatively modest effect on overall levels of fossil fuels that can be produced before 2050 in a 2 degrees scenario.

The study finds that 85% of Canada’s 48 billion barrels of bitumen should remain unburnable and if CCS is not available all bitumen production should cease by 2040.

The authors also argue: policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely onshore fossil fuels are inconsistent with their commitments to limit warming to 2 degrees. Money spent promoting this policy, they say, would be wasted because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production.

Nature article

Independent report on the study – includes quotes on UK shale gas


Mail Online

BBC News

2 replies »

  1. Strange that the Guardian changed the story because it originally had this comment , which still exists at The Independent

    “It may be that some UK shale gas resources are economically viable. We don’t know that and we won’t know that until we drill a lot more well than we currently have drilled,” said Professor Paul Ekins, director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.

    “If they turn out to be economically viable then the model would suggest that we use them and provided the local environmental impacts can be made acceptable then I would also say we should use them,” Professor Ekins said.

    “But the caveat then is what fossil fuels should we not be using from somewhere else if we are going to stay within the carbon budget? That is a question that is not often asked,” he said.

    The question won’t be asked at all if not presented to Grauniad readers and not pointed out to FoE

    I say it’s nuts to import fossil fuels and the CO2 involved in schlepping them from God know’s where when we have our own. Not using them because they only free them up for others is a valid point, but rather disingenuous.

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