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Faster, More Drastic Cuts To Fossil Fuel Extraction Than Previously Thought Will Be Needed To Avert Climate Catastrophe, Study Finds

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at September 8, 2021


Oil, gas and coal extraction will need to be sharply curtailed in order to keep global warming to the 1.5C limit outlined by the Paris climate agreement, according to a new study published in Nature Tuesday, underscoring long-standing warnings and evidence of the need for drastic and immediate action to stave off the impending climate crisis.  

Key Facts

In order to have a 50% chance of meeting the 1.5C target, nearly 60% of global oil and fossil methane gas reserves and 90% of coal reserves will need to be left in the ground, according to modeling by researchers at University College London. 

Global oil and gas production would have to decrease 3% every year in order to meet the ambitious goal (coal production peaked in 2013), the researchers found, though this is not distributed evenly across producing regions.

Much greater reserves of oil must be maintained in Canada (83%), Europe (72%) and Central and South America (73%), for example, and greater reserves of coal must be kept in Russia and former Soviet states (97%) and the Middle East (100%). 

The U.S. is the only oil-producing region not set for an immediate and steep decline towards 2050, the model predicts, with production slated to peak in 2025 due to falling imports, more flexible means of oil production and the country’s continued use of oil in the transport sector before strong growth in low-emissions technology.   

The vast majority (97%) of American coal reserves must remain in the ground, according to the model, and gas production will fall annually by 8.1% before the fossil fuel is completely phased out by the power sector in 2040. 

The researchers note their work probably underestimates the scale of the changes required given uncertainties over the deployment of green technology and the need for even more carbon to remain in the ground to have a greater than 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5C warming.

Key Background 

The findings are a marked increase from the carbon budget set by earlier research in 2015, which estimated a third of oil, almost half of gas and more than 80% of coal reserves would need to stay in the ground by 2050 to limit global warming to 2C. The University College London model indicates drastic and swift cuts to production which many regions would need to be facing now or in the very near future. The finding echoes those of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading climate science authority whose work underpinned the internationally agreed upon 1.5C limit. In its most recent report, the IPCC decisively attributed global warming to human activity—1.1C of which to greenhouse gases emitted since the second half of the 19th century—and warned temperatures would likely exceed the 1.5C limit within the next 20 years unless action to reduce emissions was taken. 

What To Watch For

The downturn in oil and gas demand during the Covid-19 pandemic “provides an opportune moment for governments to shift strategy,” the researchers wrote, calling on the governments that have “historically benefited” to “take the lead” in a move towards greener energy sources. The International Energy Agency has already issued a warning that energy demand is rebounding from its pandemic lows. Impressive growth in clean energy will not be sufficient to meet this demand, the organization warned. 

Further Reading

Unextractable fossil fuels in a 1.5 °C world (Nature)

Climate Goals At Risk As Surging Energy Demand Outpaces Growth In Renewables, IEA Warns (Forbes)

‘Code Red For Humanity’: Humans Driving ‘Unprecedented’ Climate Change, U.N. Report Finds (Forbes)


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