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Plans for global fossil fuel production wildly out of step with climate limits

Thursday, October 21st 2021, 4:36 pm - A new United Nations report found that fossil fuel output plans vastly exceed climate pledges and the 1.5°C warming threshold.

World governments plan to produce fossil fuels at more than double the rate consistent with warming of 1.5°C, new research has found.

The 2021 Production Gap Report, prepared by top climate scientists in concert with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), calculates the gap between governments’ plans for oil, gas, and coal production and the fossil fuel production that would align with other thresholds—including national climate pledges and warming of 1.5 and 2°C.

“Governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn,” stated Ploy Achakulwisut, a scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and one of the report’s lead authors.

“The research is clear,” Achakulwisut noted, “global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C.”

Kern River Oil Field, in Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley of California, United States. (Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/ Moments/ Getty Images) Kern River Oil Field in the San Joaquin Valley of California, United States. (Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo/ Moments/ Getty Images)

A profile of 15 top carbon producers—including Canada, the UK, the US, Russia, China, and Germany—the report determined that these countries have documented intentions to produce as much as 110 per cent more fossil fuels in the coming decade than the limits necessary to maintain 1.5°C of warming, the consensus threshold aimed for by the Paris Agreement.

The planned production is also 45 per cent more than what would be consistent with 2°C of warming. The production gap is mostly identical to the gap observed in a 2019 report, despite continuing national pledges toward netzero and supposed climate ambitions.

“The time to act is running out; countries and states lack the necessary ambition,” Professor Catherine Potvin, Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation, told The Weather Network. “The more we wait, the more serious the climate crisis will become.”

“For decades now experts have been trying to get the attention of governments and decision makers about the climate crisis. Each new report makes it clearer and clearer that humans are disrupting the climate,” Potvin added. “My worst concern is that as the climate warms so rapidly we are reaching the point where feed-back loops are beginning to affect the climate system.”

The report determined that as far ahead as 2040 there is a planned international increase in fossil fuel production, with oil and gas outputs continuing to rise, and a small dip in the production of coal.

This is in line with ongoing trends. According to the report, “G20 countries have directed around USD 300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — more than they have toward clean energy,” despite the rhetoric of promises and pledges, and a decrease in fossil fuel financing from development banks and other financial development institutions.

Climate change protestors in Italy. (DisobeyArt/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus Climate change protestors in Italy. (DisobeyArt/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus)

“Early efforts from development finance institutions to cut international support for fossil fuel production are encouraging,” stated Lucile Dufour, Senior Policy Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development, in the press release. “But these changes need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global 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,” added UN Secretary General, António Guterres. “But as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go…to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all.”

The findings for Canada are no more encouraging. While Canada has confirmed its pledge to produce netzero emissions by 2050, and passed legislation this year to hold the current and future governments to that target, the report also observed that the federal government “views fossil fuel exports as critical for Canada’s economic growth and prosperity.”

Some of the revenue from these exports would fund a transition to a clean-energy economy in Canada, the report affirmed, but interim steps would require the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, such as pipelines and liquefied natural gas.

“In Canada, this summer [British Columbia recorded 49.6°C]. This is so abnormal that it should make all of us aware that something is wrong, very wrong,” said Potvin. “Let’s hope this new report as well as the changes we are observing in the climate of Canada give courage to federal, provincial, and municipal governments to adopt plans that really reduce GHG to the necessary level.”

“We cannot keep thinking that small steps will resolve the climate crisis,” added Potvin.

The report also noted that Canada has continued to provide billions of dollars in yearly subsidies and investment in the domestic fossil fuel industry, including 23 billion (with the Alberta government) between 2018–2020 to fund three pipelines.

By comparison, investments in a transition to green energy by the Canadian government have remained negligible.

The report highlights the duty governments must play in addressing the global production gap, and offers pointed direction, such as placing restrictions on fossil fuel exploration and extraction; ending subsidies, and “charting a course toward a rapid, just, and equitable wind-down of fossil fuel production.”

“Fossil-fuel-producing nations must recognize their role and responsibility,” stated Måns Nilsson, Executive Director at SEI, “in closing the production gap and steering us towards a safe climate future. ”

“Six years ago the countries of the world met in Paris and the challenge then was to get them to adopt one framework to limit global warming,” said Potvin. They will meet again this year at COP26 “to review the emissions reduction achieved and decide the next steps. This report is essential because it shows that todays’ actions and plans are not at all sufficient,” Potvin noted.

“It shows that countries need to immediately take the climate crisis seriously,” said Potvin, “and rise to the challenge of ensuring that the planet remains safe for human life for the next generation.”

Thumbnail credit: Witthaya Prasongsin/ Moment/ Getty Images

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