A majority oil and gas reserves must remain in the ground to avoid the climate crisis, analysis published today concludes.
The study by University College London found that almost 60% of global oil and gas reserves could not be extracted if there was to be a 50% chance of keeping global temperatures below 1.5C, a target set in the Paris Agreement.
It argues that 92 trillion cubic metres of gas (59%) must stay in ground, along with 744 billion barrels of oil (58%).
Oil and gas production must decline at a rate of 3% a year from now until 2050, the study said.
And the rate of decline might need to be even steeper, the study concluded:
“The bleak picture painted by our scenarios for the global fossil fuel industry is very probably an underestimate of what is required and, as a result, production would need to be curtailed even faster.”
More carbon would need to stay in the ground for a greater than 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C, the study said.
“most regions must reach peak production now or during the next decade, rendering many operational and planned fossil fuel projects unviable.”
The study in the journal, Nature, comes as decisions are imminent on whether to permit 20 years of onshore oil production from new wells in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
The site operators, Rathlin Energy and Egdon Resources, have both argued that their proposals would support the UK’s transition to a low carbon future because, they said, local oil production had a lower carbon footprint than imports.
“Rapid decline needed”
The Nature study is the first to estimate fossil fuel reserves and resources that must remain in the ground under a 1.5C target.
It builds on previous research in 2015, which estimated that one-third of oil and half of gas must remain in the ground to stay below 2C of warming.
The latest modelling assumes substantial use of carbon dioxide removal and carbon capture and storage.
The authors said:
“Fossil fuels continue to dominate the global energy system, accounting for 81% of primary energy demand. After decades of growth, their rate of production and use will need to reverse and decline rapidly to meet internationally agreed climate goals.”
“The need to forgo future production means country producers, fossil energy companies and their investors need to seriously reassess their production outlooks.
“This is particularly true for countries that are fiscally reliant on fossil fuels, to allow for a managed diversification of their economies.”
The study calls for domestic policy to restrict production and reduce demand by, for example, subsidy removal, production taxes, penalties for regulatory non-compliance and bans on new exploration and production.
The proposed international non-proliferation treaty on fossil fuels could also be key to global action, the study said.