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Fossil fuel extraction must be stopped to limit global warming

New research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters emphasizes the urgency of climate change. The study shows that stopping new oil, gas and coal development isn’t enough. To avoid going over the 1.5°C temperature change limit, not only do new fossil fuel extraction projects need to be stopped, but some existing and approved projects must also be decommissioned. 

“Our findings show that halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget,” said co-lead author, Greg Muttitt of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. “Some existing fossil fuel licences and production will need to be revoked and phased out early. Governments need to start tackling head-on how to do this in a fair and equitable way, which will require overcoming opposition from fossil fuel interests.”

The research is the first full assessment of committed CO2 emissions in current and future approved fossil fuel extraction projects. The researchers used a commercial database of more than 25,000 oil and gas fields. They also developed their own database of coal fields. Using this information, the experts calculated that existing and committed projects are set to release 60 percent more carbon than budgeted for 1.5°C and push the budget for the upper limit of 2°C set by the Paris Agreement. 

“Our study reinforces that building new fossil fuel infrastructure is not a viable response to Russia’s war on Ukraine,” said co-lead author Kelly Trout of Oil Change International. “The world has already tapped too much oil, gas, and coal. Developing more would either cause more dangerous levels of warming, if fully extracted, or create a larger scale of stranded assets.”

The researchers emphasize that increasing oil and gas projects to supplement the loss in fossil fuels from Russia is not an appropriate response to the war in Ukraine. They point out that each new fossil fuel project just gets the governments of the world more entrenched in the broken system of fossil fuels. 

“Our research should also be a warning sign for publicly listed companies and their investors that reserves that are on the books to be developed cannot be developed to stay below 1.5°C,” said co-author Dimitri Lafleur of Global Climate Insights. “Fossil fuel companies that claim to be aligned with the Paris Agreement and that need to transition their core businesses, need to accelerate their transition plans.”

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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