Global Fossil Fuel Production Plans Far Exceed Sustainable Levels

Climate change fossil

To mitigate anthropogenic climate change, it is imperative to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. This consensus is widely acknowledged. However, there is ongoing debate about the pathways to achieving this goal. In anticipation of COP28, recent research sheds light on the matter, advocating for the complete abandonment of all fossil fuels!

At the end of this November, during COP28, governments worldwide will discuss their ambitions regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The overarching objective remains to keep anthropogenic climate change below the 1.5 °C threshold. To achieve this, researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute (Sweden) assert in Nature Communications that we have no choice but to rapidly decrease our consumption of ALL fossil fuels.

While this may seem self-evident, it’s essential to note that consensus in this matter remains elusive. Two years ago, during COP26, an agreement was reached to progressively reduce coal usage. The necessary reduction in reliance on oil also appears to garner widespread support. The more contentious issue lies in the case of natural gas, often deemed as such but fundamentally remaining a fossil fuel. Some advocate for its continued, albeit potentially diminished, reliance.

limiting global warming to 1.5°c
These are global primary energy supplies from coal, oil and gas, as modeled by the mitigation scenarios valued by the IPCC, consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°c without or with limited overshoot.

All Fossil Fuels Harm the Climate

In the hope of shedding more light on the debates and transcending ideologies, researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute have examined around a hundred mitigation scenarios—those leading to a warming contained within the 1.5 °C limit or thereabouts—found in the latest assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They have analyzed the effectiveness, speed, and feasibility of various proposed options. As mentioned earlier, the majority suggest substantial reductions in coal and oil supplies. Carbon pricing, the availability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, and the adoption of renewable energies all have a significant impact on the trajectory for fossil gas, which is less clear.

The researchers observe that all scenarios envisioning a “rebound” in the use of fossil carbon impose virtually no constraints on the potential for carbon capture, storage, and removal. However, a 2020 study indicates that both technical factors—such as geological storage capacity—and non-technical factors—like governance constraints—limit the potential of CCS and CDR. Therefore, if we adhere to what experts then termed the “reasonably achievable potential” of these technologies, the global production and utilization of fossil gas should be reduced twice as quickly. To clarify, instead of limiting them by 42% in 2050 compared to their 2020 levels, they should be limited—still to stay below the 1.5 °C threshold of anthropogenic climate warming—by 84%! For coal and oil, the impact is less pronounced. From the respective limitations of 95% and 62%, we would need to move to 99% and 70%.

Fossil Gas, in Whatever Form, Is Not “Cleaner”.

The text discusses the reconsideration of fossil gas as a transitional energy source and a cleaner fuel. The emphasis is on the potential misjudgment of presenting fossil gas as such, especially when relying on limited carbon capture, storage, and elimination technologies. These approaches not only contribute to lowering overall fossil fuel usage but also offer additional benefits such as reduced air and water pollution, biodiversity gains, and positive impacts on populations.

Researchers from Cornell University in the United States have conducted research that supports this conclusion. The focus is on liquefied natural gas (LNG), often touted as a fossil energy source facilitating the transition from coal and oil to renewables due to its perceived lower CO2 emissions. However, the researchers caution against overlooking leaks. Their analysis of the life cycle of LNG transported from the U.S. to Europe and Asia suggests that, at best, LNG could be approximately 24% more emitting than coal and, at worst, twice as impactful. It’s important to note that these figures are preliminary, pending completion of the peer-review process for the research. If confirmed, prioritizing the phase-out of LNG may become imperative.