The World is On Track to Produce More Fuels Than Needed to Limit Warming

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

It's like stacking up bottles of booze in front of an alcoholic swearing he's going to quit. It's a big disconnect between actions, aspirations, and consequences.

The anger of Greta Thunberg with the world’s governments over climate change is well justified. The hard reality is that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to meet global temperature limits. 

The world is on track to produce more coal, goal, and oil than is needed to limit warming to 1.5°C to 2°C, according to a new report. That creates a “production gap” making climate goals harder to achieve. 

Called The Production Gap Report, it is the first report to assess the plans and projections of 10 countries for fossil fuel production. Seven of the countries (China, the United States, Russia, India, Australia, Indonesia, and Canada) are the world’s top fossil fuel producers, while three (Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom) are significant producers with strong climate goals.

Leading research organization produced the report, including the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development, Overseas Development Institute, CICERO Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Climate Analytics, and UNEP. More than 50 researchers contributed to the report.

The disconnect between climate goals and plans for fossil fuel production

The governments studied in the report plan to produce about 50 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a two degrees Celsius warming limit, and 120 more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway. The planned fossil fuel production of the 10 countries by 2030 will lead to 29 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The production gap for coal is the largest. Countries plan to produce 150 percent more coal by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway, and 280 percent more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.

“This report shows, for the first time, just how big the disconnect is between Paris temperature goals and countries’ plans and policies for coal, oil, and gas production,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center, in a statement.

More than 60 countries have committed to updating their national determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020. The updated NDCs set countries’ new emission reduction plans and climate pledges under the Paris Agreement.

The U.S. leads the world in fossil fuel production

The profile of the U.S. in the report is enough to make any concerned American hang their head in shame. The U.S. produces more oil and gas than any other country. In 2015, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia in oil production and Russian in gas production in 2012. The U.S is the second-largest producer of coal after China. That means that the U.S. leads the world in fossil fuel production.

Fossil fuel production is encouraged in the U.S, with tax incentives, regulatory reform, undervalued leases of federal lands, low royalty rates, and research and development support. U.S. presidents have supported increased fossil fuel production with strategies ranging from what former President Obama termed an “all of the above” energy development approach, and President Trump’s an “energy dominance” approach. Obama lifted the four-decade-old ban on crude experts in 2015, which the report cites as playing an “instrumental role in the continuing boom in U.S. oil production.”

The report mirrors the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2019

The report is consistent with the findings of the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2019, which described the emissions gap as “large.” The annual emissions in 2030 need to be 15 gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide (GTCO2e) less than the current unconditional NDCs "imply" for the 2°C pathway, and 32 GTCO2e less for the 1.5°C pathway.

What can be done

The report lays out what governments can do to align their fossil fuel development plans and policies with their climate goals. The recommendations include economic instruments, regulatory approaches, government provision of goods and services, and measures to enhance information and transparency.

The world’s governments are not the only ones that can take action. Local governments, companies, investors, trade unions, and civil society organizations can also take climate action through shifting investment to lower-carbon options. The report cites the example that individuals and institutions have already pledged to divest more than $11 trillion from fossil fuel holdings.

Will the powers that be heed the warnings of Greta and take action? The futures of an entire generation ride on the answers to that question

Comments (6)
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