'Dangerous trajectory': Report details a world set to consume fossil fuels at full speed

'Dangerous trajectory': Report details a world set to consume fossil fuels at full speed
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

Climate campaigners on Wednesday said a new report from the United Nations and several leading research institutes offers a "damning indictment" of governments around the world, showing that more than a dozen countries plan to continue producing fossil fuels in the coming decade at a rate that could make it impossible to limit the heating of the globe to the 1.5°C threshold.

"Recent announcements by the world's largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels. But... there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future."

With less than two weeks to go until the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 26), the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) joined with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and E3G to publish the 2021 Production Gap Report, showing that countries plan to produce about 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global heating. The yearly Production Gap Report was first released in 2019. Since then, numerous reports have shown that continued fossil fuel production is incompatible with avoiding the worst effects of the climate crisis—including ones by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—and that shifting to renewable energy production would create eight million new jobs worldwide.Still, the report shows that the gap between governments' planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the production levels consistent with meeting the temperature rise limit set by the Paris climate agreement in 2015 is largely unchanged since the first Production Gap Report.

"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," said Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist. "However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn."

UNEP and its partner institutes examined the plans and policies of 15 countries that are major fossil fuel producers, including the U.S., U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Australia. Collectively, the governments in the report are projected to increase their oil and gas production while only slightly decreasing coal production.

The fossil fuel production plans described in the report—including that of the U.S., which is projected to increase oil production by 5.2% and gas by 3.8% in the next decade, representing some of the greatest increases in fossil fuel investment—"set the planet on a dangerous trajectory," said climate action group 350.org.

"World leaders need to put their resources where their rhetoric has been—stopping the extraction of oil and gas and directing attention to how we will finance the transition to climate justice instead," said Namrata Chowdhary, chief of public engagement at the organization. "For the first time in 30 years, fossil fuel reductions are on the table at the U.N. climate negotiations—the only real question is whether political leaders will demonstrate the urgency and wisdom required of them, or whether the outcome will once again contain only empty promises." The Production Gap Report noted that the countries profiled have recently announced plans to reach greenhouse gas emission reduction targets through their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) following the Paris climate agreement, including some that have pledged net-zero emissions by 2050, such as the U.S. and Great Britain.

"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."

"Recent announcements by the world's largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels," said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in response to the report. "But, as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future. It is urgent that all remaining public financiers as well as private finance, including commercial banks and asset managers, switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all."

Pledges and cuts to international financial support for fossil fuels "need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C," said Lucile Dufour, senior policy advisor for IISD.

Campaigners and global policymakers urged countries to sign on to international agreements aimed at addressing the "demand and supply of fossil fuels simultaneously," as Andrea Meza, Costa Rica's minister for environment and energy, said.

"We must cut with both hands of the scissors," said Meza. "That is why, together with Denmark, we are leading the creation of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to put an end to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, plan a just transition for workers, and start winding down existing production in a managed way."

The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) requires countries to impose a "complete and immediate ban on new licensing for oil and gas exploration and production," with wealthy countries "going beyond a ban on licensing [by] committing to stop all new development of oil and gas extraction projects."

Advocates also urged countries to sign on to a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT), which, as Common Dreams reported last month, would establish "a binding global plan" to end new expansion of fossil fuel production, phase out existing production, and "invest in a transformational plan to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally."

"For decades countries have been negotiating targets and constraining emissions but behind our backs the fossil fuel industry has been growing production," said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the FFNPT Initiative. "This report makes clear no new oil, gas, and coal projects fit with climate action and governments must act now to wind down fossil fuel production. A Fossil Fuel Treaty would help governments do that in a way that is just and equitable."

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