Research

Fossil fuel extraction plans “vastly exceed” safe climate limits – UN

Fossil fuel production planned by national governments “vastly exceeds” the limit needed to keep global temperatures at safe levels, the United Nations said today.

Egdon Resources’ oil production site at Wressle, North Lincolnshire. Photo: Union Jack Oil

Despite greater climate ambitions and net-zero commitments, oil and gas production is expected to rise sharply and planned cuts to coal extraction are just modest.

A report for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says countries have predicted they will produce more than double the fossil fuels (110%) in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C.

The 2021 Production Gap Report looks at the discrepancy between governments’ planned production of oil, gas and coal, and the global fossil fuel production levels needed to limit warming to 1.5C and 2C.

Since the first report in 2019, the gap is largely unchanged. Total fossil fuel production is expected to increase to at least 2040, creating an ever-widening production gap, it said.

Today’s report, produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), said governments’ production plans and projections would lead to about 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more gas in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and scientist at SEI, said:

“The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C.

“However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn.”

The authors found that global gas production, based on government plans, is projected to increase most between 2020 and 2040. This continued, long-term global expansion in gas production is inconsistent with the temperature limits in the Paris climate agreement, they said

The report’s detailed analysis of the 15 biggest fossil fuel producing nations showed that the US, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and China all expected increased oil and gas extraction. India and Russia projected increases in coal extraction. The UK and Indonesia expected oil and gas production would fall.

Måns Nilsson, executive director at SEI, said:

“Fossil-fuel-producing nations must recognize their role and responsibility in closing the production gap and steering us towards a safe climate future,

“As countries increasingly commit to net-zero emissions by mid-century, they also need to recognize the rapid reduction in fossil fuel production that their climate targets will require.”

“Governments must step up”

The report comes just over a week before the opening of the Cop26 international climate conference in Glasgow.

Countries will be asked to pledge carbon-cutting measures to limit temperature to the target of 1.5C. But according to today’s report, most governments continue to provide significant policy support for fossil fuel production.

Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said:

“The devastating impacts of climate change are here for all to see. There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5°C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“At COP26 and beyond, the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition. This is what climate ambition looks like.”

The researchers also found that countries had directed over US$ 300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — more than they had to clean energy.

Lucile Dufour, senior policy advisor at IISD, said:

“Early efforts from development finance institutions to cut international support for fossil fuel production are encouraging, but these changes need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global warming to 1.5C.”

UK net zero policies

Yesterday, the UK government released its strategy to achieve net zero carbon.

Policies included:

  • Subsidies on replacing gas boilers with heat pumps (more details)
  • Ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030
  • Electricity generation will be zero carbon by 2035 with a new large nuclear plant by 2024
  • Target of 40gw of offshore wind power by 2030 and more onshore wind and solar supplies
  • Aim to deliver 5gw of hydrogen production capacity by 2030
  • Halving emissions from oil and gas
  • Ambition for the UK to become a world leader in zero emission flight
  • Commitment of 30,000 ha of new woodland planting a year

The strategy did not include:

  • Ambitious plans for home insulation
  • Commitments to end new licences for oil and gas exploration or phase out production
  • Recommendations about meat and dairy consumption

12 replies »

  1. What a strange report!

    It is the demand that needs to be addressed. The supply only happens to meet a demand.

    The same nonsense was spouted today around sponsorship to the Science Museum where someone mentioned that “we all” know no increase in fossil fuel should happen. Well, if “we all” knew that, then the supply would not be increased! There is obviously quite a few who drive that supply increase to meet their demand, and there are plenty of countries who will be willing to supply a demand, if it is there.

    • Another way of looking at it would be: supply is decreased, prices go up, demand drops as customers seek alternatives. Throw in responsible governments shifting incentives to renewables, and we’d be on the right path.

        • Back in the real world:

          So, Aramco are to fund $110 billion into a new gas project-and they “hope” that will “create demand”???

          Certainly not economic literacy. Who invests that sort of money without having a pretty firm handle on what the demand is and will be?

          Nord Stream 2 investment is in the hope that it will create a demand that together with the geo political risks, make it a good gamble?

          Perhaps Alex doesn’t look at the current oil and gas prices, where price has gone up. Has demand dropped? Nope. Just an awful lot of people suffering from fuel poverty. And, those of us oldies, it has all happened before-the 1970s come to my mind. So, there is no excuse for such nonsense. Just look at weekly oil rig counts in USA that are rising and rising. Is that a sign of gambling upon loads of supply creating a demand from low prices? Nope. It is simply suppliers reacting to high demand that has created high prices.

          It really is fascinating to observe how the keyboard economists try and suggest they know so much more about matters than the hoards of very well paid economists who look at whether $110 billion should be invested. Bit like fantasy football. Important though to look into the real world, otherwise disappointment awaits in both sectors.

      • We’d be on the “right” path to increased death rate from fuel poverty. I suppose if that was allowed to continue for a little while there would indeed be demand dropping. Bit harsh though.
        There are plenty of incentives upon renewables which have not had any positive result-Cash for Ash comes to mind. Strangely, when each one fails miserably there is a pause for calls for more, then a little while later the siren voices start up again. Currently, I note there is a large public cry for renewable incentives (subsidies) to be removed from energy bills, which is the usual foolery of not taking it out of your right pocket but your left one will pay instead. Apparently, the left one only is supplied to other people, so many trust they will avoid it! (LOL)

  2. Thanks for highlighting this Ruth. This is the ‘reality’ we face. There are different orders of reality: that which grabs an event, a perceived trend- good or bad, and depicts it as the norm, and that which looks below the surface, sees the bad but also sees the good, the noble, the worthwhile in ‘man’, that which raises ‘him’ up and does not demean him, that which refuses to accept that ‘man’ is innately greedy and out to exploit for ‘his’ own nefarious benefit, that which will point to wrongs in order that they may be righted. This is a positive rather than a negative view of ‘man’, the only one we can live with.
    Clearly we are not doing enough. It is up to those of us who do not fool ourselves that we are doing enough to point this out, and many of your correspondents, if not all, do so. We are human: we can resist the market. This government has sacrificed the high ground in favour of words.

    • Thanks, Deborah, The real backlash of course will occur if Cop26 is allowed to ‘fail’, and the signs are not good – too much dithering, too much encouraging of the fossil fuel industry, too much mendacity and stupidity, too much apathy. Our (grand)children will not thank us The world needs clear direction, legislation if necessary. As the academic report published alongside the government’s net zero strategy recently put it: “We do not have time to nudge our way to net zero.” The time for gentle persuasion is over. Politicians of principle and stature are needed. Where are they?

      • The world does not legislate. There is no way that it can. Individual countries can legislate and if that receives enough public support the legislation may stick. If not, it will be reversed by the next lot.

        There is no point to trying to create a fantasy world where things could happen that can’t, even if that is the remit of most activists. Outside of social media, the real world is still there. (It appears Donald is about to start his own (anti) social media! Goodness, there will be so much choice for our (grand)children.)

        Cop26 will be a roaring success-they always are. 30k will swarm into Glasgow spreading hope, and other things. Then, over the following years some will follow what they committed to, others will not and the world’s population will continue to increase. The two bits after the last comma will be the key to 1.5 degrees. Arithmetic and physics again.

  3. Maybe the bigger picture, Deborah-as Paul has indicated?

    Might not be a nice picture to some but reality often isn’t.

    Whilst some areas of the world may want to increase costs and achieve Cop targets, I am afraid many will not as they have huge populations who are just getting to the stage of having some disposable income-and wish to be able to dispose of it, rather than have it taken away in extra cost, and be back to living as their parents did. With China, for instance, that is totally unacceptable where the population allows the current system in “exchange” for improving standards of living. If the latter is curtailed, the former would have serious problems.

    If the world manages to find an alternative source of energy that is reliable, clean and cheap, that would solve the issue. Maybe that could be fusion. Currently, the alternatives don’t meet those three criteria, so will not be accepted by all. A half way house is unlikely to get full support.

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