Nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C, the internationally agreed target to avert climate catastrophe, according to a new scientific study.
The assessment goes beyond the International Energy Agency’s call in 2021 to halt all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, a statement considered sweeping at the time.
The new research comes to its most striking conclusion by not assuming that the new technologies will be able to suck up massive amounts of CO2 of the atmosphere to offset the combustion of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky bet.
The Guardian revealed last week that 195 oil and gas ‘carbon bombs’ are planned by the industry. This means projects that would each produce at least 1 billion tonnes of CO2. Together, these carbon bombs alone would cause global warming beyond the 1.5°C limit. But the twelve biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m (£81m) a day until 2030 on climate change programmes.
Greg Muttitt, of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, was one of the leaders of the new research and said: “Stopping new extractive projects is a necessary step, but not yet sufficient to stay within limits. of our rapidly shrinking carbon budget. Some existing fossil fuel licenses and production will need to be revoked and phased out quickly. Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this fairly and equitably, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests.
Kelly Trout of Oil Change International, the book’s other lead author, said: “Our study confirms that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable answer to Russia’s war on climate change. ‘Ukraine. The world has already exploited too much oil and gas. The researchers said governments should instead accelerate the introduction of renewables and efficiency measures.
The new study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyzed a database of over 25,000 oil and gas fields and developed a new coal mining dataset. The researchers found that the fields and mines already developed would lead to 936 billion tons of CO2 when fully exploited and burned. That’s 25 years of global emissions at the current rate – scientists around the world agree that emissions must halve by 2030.
The researchers calculated that 40% of developed fossil fuels must stay in the ground to have a 50% chance of the global temperature rise stopping at 1.5°C. Half of the emissions would come from coal, a third from oil and a fifth from gas. The researchers found that almost 90% of developed reserves are located in just 20 countries, led by China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States, followed by Iran, India, the United States. Indonesia, Australia and Canada.
The research only considered projects for which companies had made final investment decisions, i.e. committed to spending billions to build rigs and pipelines to extract fossil fuels . A 2021 study, led by Daniel Welsby of University College London, assessed all known reserves and found that 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas must remain untapped.
Welsby said: “The new study is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the fossil fuels likely to be produced and the volume that must remain in the ground if global warming is to be limited.” But he noted that the study did not fully account for methane, a potent greenhouse gas, or oil and gas used for petrochemicals.
The study did not estimate the amount of CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere through technology in the future. “These technologies have not been proven at scale,” Muttitt said. “There is a lot of talk about it, but we think it would be a mistake to assume that achieving climate goals depends on achieving them on a very large scale. We just don’t know if it will be possible in terms of funding or governance.
Maeve O’Connor of the Carbon Tracker think tank, author of a new reportsaid: “Oil and gas companies are betting on emissions [reducing] technologies that pose a huge risk to investors and the climate. Most of these technologies are still at an early stage of development, with few large projects operating at the scale required by corporate goals, while solutions involving tree planting require large areas of land. .
Research published in 2019 found that the world already had more fossil fuel power plants than needed and that some may need to retire earlier. The new analysis found that fossil fuel production sites must also be closed, but how to do this remains to be determined.
“That’s an absolutely key question,” Muttitt said. “One of the biggest hurdles will be the legal infrastructure that oil and gas companies and some coal companies have built to defend their investments and profitability, through treaties like the Energy Charter Treaty. [ECT].” The ECT allows companies to sue governments for lost profits. There are talks, he said, that European Union countries could pull out of the treaty en masse.
A small number of governments, including Denmark, Costa Rica, France, Ireland and California, have pledged to stop issuing new fossil fuel licenses. If others join, it could be a game-changer, Muttitt said.
Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s Minister for Climate and Energy, said: “The Beyond the Oil and Gas Alliance offers a way for governments to act together to begin a phase-out of oil and gas production to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.