Fossil fuel production plans ‘dangerously’ out of line with climate targets

·4 min read

Countries are planning production of oil, coal and gas over the next decade at levels that is “dangerously” out of sync with targets to curb climate change, the UN has warned.

A report by the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and research institutions found that planned production by fossil fuel-producing countries, including the UK, is 110% above – more than double – the levels that will allow the world to curb temperature rises to 1.5C.

Despite increased climate action and pledges, the fossil fuel production “gap” between countries’ plans and what scientists say is needed to curb dangerous warming has hardly changed since a first report on the issue by the UN in 2019.

The warning comes days before world leaders meet for crucial UN climate talks in Glasgow, where pressure will be on countries to take more ambitious action to keep the 1.5C limit within reach.

Scientists warn that the world is already experiencing worse extremes at 1.2C of warming, and if temperatures go above 1.5C we face significantly more heatwaves, rainstorms, water shortages and drought, greater economic losses and lower crop yields, higher sea levels and greater destruction of coral reefs.

At previous UN talks in Paris in 2015, countries agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to curb temperature rises to 1.5C.

To do that, greenhouse gas emissions – which largely come from fossil fuels – must fall rapidly within the decade up to 2030, and continue to fall towards zero overall by mid-century.

But the UN report warns that governments’ production plans and projections would lead to about 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more gas in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5C.

It also warns that planned global production will be 45% more in 2030 than what is consistent with limiting warming to 2C.

And it found that, over the next two decades, governments expect an increase in global oil and gas production and only a modest fall in coal production.

Plans and projections see total global fossil fuel production increasing until at least 2040, creating a worsening gap between what is being done and the action needed to halt dangerous climate change.

Inger Andersen, executive director of Unep, said: “The devastating impacts of climate change are here for all to see.

“There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“At Cop26 and beyond, the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition. This is what climate ambition looks like.”

The new report from Unep provides profiles for 15 major producer countries including Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US.

In the UK, the Government has faced criticism over plans for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria and allowing new oil and gas extraction in the Cambo oil field in the North Sea, in the run-up to hosting the UN climate talks.

The UN’s report says the UK provided £3.7 billion in tax allowances and relief for oil and gas production in 2019 and will provide billions more tax relief for decommissioning in the coming decades, while its North Sea transition deal for the offshore oil and gas sector has no plans for a wind-down in production.

More widely, the report found that countries have directed more than 300 billion US dollars in new money towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic — more than they have towards clean energy, despite calls to build back from the crisis in a greener world.

But public international finance for production of fossil fuels from major G20 economies and multilateral development banks has significantly decreased in recent years, the report found.

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