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