Scientists warn current fossil fuel emissions will breach 1.5C warming limit

Greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure are enough to burst through the critical limit of 1.5C in global temperature rise, a major new report warned today.

Gas flares at Cuadrilla’s fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, 2 November 2018. Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The report, from the world’s leading climate scientists, said that any new projects, such as oil and gas wells, would make passing 1.5C more likely.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which advises the United Nations, predicted in the report that 1.5C of warming above pre-industrial levels would be reached by the first half of the 2030s. It said:

“Projected CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure without additional abatement would exceed the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C.”

The report added:

“Projected cumulative future CO2 emissions over the lifetime of existing and planned fossil fuel infrastructure, if historical operating patterns are maintained and without additional abatement, are approximately equal to the remaining carbon budget for limiting warming to 2°C with a likelihood of 83%.”

The IPCC said “more than a century of burning fossil fuels as well as unequal and unsustainable energy and land use has led to global warming of 1.1°C above pre-industrial”.

“This had resulted in more frequent and more intense extreme weather events that have caused increasingly dangerous impacts on nature and people in every region of the world”, the IPCC said.

The report said there were “multiple, feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emission and adapt to climate change that are available now”.

Urgent and more ambitious action could still secure a liveable sustainable future for all, the report said.

Oliver Geden, an author of the IPCC report, told the BBC:

“There’s not a cut-off day [for fossil fuels], but it’s clear that the fossil fuel infrastructure we already have will blow through that [1.5C] carbon budget.

“If greenhouse gas emissions can be made to peak as soon as possible, and are reduced rapidly in the following years, it may still be possible to avoid the worst ravages that would follow a 1.5C rise.

“The remaining carbon budget in opening new fossil fuel infrastructure is certainly not compatible with the 1.5C target.”

Funding problem

The IPCC said public and private finance for fossil fuels was still greater than that for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would reduce emissions and lead to other public benefits, it said.

Friederike Otto, another author of the report, said:

“It’s not that there isn’t enough money in the world. But at the moment the money is clearly going to the wrong places. We still have subsidies of fossil fuels so the money on a very big scale needs to go to different places.”

She said any subsidy of fossil fuel was a mistake. On fossil fuel investment, she said:

“Investment in fossil fuels will just mean stranded assets.”


The IPCC said net zero CO2 energy systems would need:

  • a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use
  • minimal use of unabated fossil fuels
  • use of carbon capture and storage in the remaining fossil fuel systems
  • electricity systems that emit no net CO2
  • widespread electrification
  • alternative energy carriers in applications less amenable to electrification
  • energy conservation and efficiency
  • and greater integration across the energy system

By unabated, the IPCC means fossil fuels produced and used without interventions that reduce greenhouse gases throughout the life cycle. It suggests that 90% or more of CO2 would need to be captured from power plants and 50-80% of fugitive methane emissions removed from the energy supply.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said:

“This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, said:

“Today’s message from the IPCC is abundantly clear: we are making progress, but not enough. We have the tools to stave off and reduce the risks of the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but we must take advantage of this moment to act now.”

UK new oil and gas plans

In the UK, the government has approved a new coal mine in Cumbria, opened a new licensing round for 900 locations for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and approved the Jackdaw offshore gas field.

Onshore, it approved exploratory drilling at Dunsfold in Surrey. There are also plans for new onshore oil and gas operations in East Yorkshire (Rathlin Energy at West Newton), North Lincolnshire (Egdon Resources at Wressle), Lincolnshire (Egdon Resources at Biscathorpe and IGas at Glentworth) and West Sussex (Angus Energy at Balcombe).

Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said:

“the government must deliver on legally-binding carbon reduction targets, thanks to our world-leading Climate Change Act. But last week we heard the government is still way off meeting its own goals over the crucial next decade.

“Legal action brought by Friends of the Earth and others last year also found the UK’s climate plans are wholly inadequate – the government is due to publish a revised Net Zero Strategy by the end of this month. Strengthening this will be the government’s best opportunity to show that it is listening to the science and put the UK on course to become a thriving green economy.

“For this to happen, we need to see a huge drive to insulate the UK’s heat-leaking homes, faster development of cheap, clean renewable energy, fewer roads being built and an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said, 

“Today’s UN report is another stark warning that the chances of avoiding 1.5°C are shrinking fast. Deep emissions cuts are needed now, and the message at the heart of this latest assessment is that we must say no to all new oil and gas projects, put an end to fossil fuel subsidies and urgently start delivering a just transition for impacted communities.”

30 replies »

  1. “PS 1720, I have never tried to disprove global heating.” (Collyer)
    I think most of your readers, even those who think that you talk sense occasionally, will be able to see the difference between protesting that you have never sought to disprove global heating, when what you were accused of was “ selectively using “science” to disprove anthropogenic global heating.”
    In this respect, and in many others, you have misrepresented the facts., whether recklessly or deliberately I will let others decide. With texts in front of you, and your history on this issue, you can hardly argue you were ignorant of the facts. Nor can you argue that any one else told you how to respond. If the cap fits…….Time to change your mentor.

  2. Well, 1720, you can disprove scientific advice-and have tried to do so with nonsense about someone changing their mind after they had died! Stop the Press: The Bible is no longer valid as someone has decided Jesus would have changed his mind, if he had lived.
    Guess what? There are now politicians even standing up and saying the wind doesn’t always blow (shock/horror) but yet to state too clearly that £200B is required to allow for that. Probably because they know it will end up a lot more.

    Once again, your credibility to play that card has already gone. Not many cards left, 1720, other than the Joker.

    I have not tried to disprove scientific advice, I have never claimed that climate change is not happening. What I have argued is that much of the action being suggested is not scientifically sound and simply does not add up. I have used on several occasions the example of biofuel from grain. Scientific advice supported, scientific advice damned it. What is the situation now? Some still following one lot of scientists others looking to ban it. Yes, a Green ban, because the “something must be done” you have been championing is worse than doing nothing in that case! I know what food inflation is standing at currently, I can check the data regarding the economics of E10 petrol. I am not a garage mechanic who must welcome the advent of E10 petrol, I am not directly invested in biofuel companies making money out of one lot of scientists-although I suspect some of my pension fund Trustees may have done so on my behalf. Don’t get me started on countries chopping down rain forests and then growing sugar cane for fuel whilst sitting on reserves of oil and gas.

    You on the other hand have just resorted to some Alice in Wonderland fantasy around arithmetic and physics, so maybe the Joker has already been played.

    “Told me how to respond”??? What a chilling concept. The activists reason to exist, but not for me.

    Oh, they have tried since I can remember. Then I read Orwell and decided the Group Think was not for me but “we”. Sorry 1720, I have no desire to be told how to respond. You need to review your target audience. It is unlikely to include too many of those told how to respond and convert to diesel cars-scientifically proven! How many £billions required to compensate for that, how many more £billions to come, how much actual damage done to the environment and health? Another “something must be done” that was worse than doing nothing. I would just remind there has always been a lot more scientific failures than scientific triumphs.

  3. Dust!
    I notice you do not address the point of my post to which you respond, viz.. That you have rejected the anthropogenic character of global heating, and that you deny you have rejected the anthropogenic nature of global heating, both of which rather vitiate your response. Perhaps you do not understand.
    I did make a suggestion that you refrain from posting until you were able to concentrate upon the point and distinguish truth from falsehood. I also suggested you change your mentor. You, like Johnson, persist.

    • I respond to what I choose, 1720. The incoherence I tend to avoid responding to. My understanding is quite okay, thank you. There really is not much complication to your method. I understand what you suggested, and then failed to come up with any evidence when challenged. I can refer you to a recent post of mine to yourself which shows your falsehood, but others can observe for themselves and wonder why you would want to post fiction. Would it be that you know insufficient about the subject to discuss the facts? Yes, I persist in researching the subject to identify what the facts are. You have an issue identifying that a fact is something that is true-remember? Yes, you apologized when caught- then continued as before. No wonder you are fixated with Johnson! You have even tried to present facts that are very evident today are somehow not facts simply because you decided that the guy who accurately presented the facts, would have changed his mind if he had lived longer. A reality denier posting more fiction.

      You would be better off concentrating on what you post rather than writing fiction about what others post in order to create a false image to argue against. Try debating around the facts. I know it requires you to make an effort but it really does help. Without that your posts are largely incoherent and full of sloppy factual errors. You have a lot of work to do before you can move on from tilting at those windmills.

  4. “ I respond to what I choose, 1720. The incoherence I tend to avoid responding to.”
    So I was right. You don’t understand. Sorry to respond to you as though you did….thoughtless of me.
    Nothing to add to my post. Stet.

    • No, you were not right, as per usual. I understand that you have nothing to add, and that you apply little thought-the incoherence. So, that I do not respond to. The falsehoods I may correct, but even there it is a big task and I may decide some are not worth bothering with if I have more important things to deal with.
      I did yesterday, having my grandson with me for the afternoon. I concentrated on offering him choices so he could use his brain. Apart from choosing too much chocolate he, at 2 years old, did a lot better than some adults I could think of, and he already can calculate 47 is a lot more than 7, even if he may be considering chocolate buttons to do so! Good job he has yet to be a target to join the Group Think who will try and unravel the arithmetic he has been taught. Even at 2 years old, rational exuberance is possible. The irrational bit seems to come much later.

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