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Current fossil fuel plans will shatter 1.5°C climate goal this decade

The UN’s 2023 Production Gap Report presents a stark warning. The experts say that current government plans for fossil fuel production are on a trajectory to far exceed the climate limits required to maintain global warming at 1.5°C. 

This ambitious target, essential for avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, is being undermined by projected fossil fuel production that would surpass compatible levels by more than double by 2030, and by an alarming 350 percent by 2050.

Global production gap

Despite an uptick in renewable energy usage, the report highlights a disturbing trend: the global production gap has remained largely unchanged since 2019. This indicates that the increase in renewable energy has not displaced fossil fuel production at the necessary scale or speed. 

The UN report underscores the need for governments to not only promote renewable energy but to also actively implement policies that reduce fossil fuel supply alongside other mitigation strategies to ensure a truly effective transition.

Countries to blame

Alarmingly, the report calls out five affluent countries — U.S., Canada, Australia, Norway, and the UK — for their plans to develop oil and gas fields, accounting for over half of all such developments until 2050. 

This is despite these nations’ considerable contributions to historical carbon emissions and their claimed leadership in climate action. Their continued push for oil and gas extraction stands in stark contrast to their responsibilities and the global need for a sustainable future.

Halting the projects 

In light of these findings, Romain Ioualalen, Global Policy Manager at Oil Change International, emphasizes the urgency of halting new oil and gas projects immediately. 

Ioualalen advocates for a rapid and fair phase-out of fossil fuels to be a central topic at the upcoming UN climate talks in Dubai. There, discussions will pivot on the fossil fuel phase-out, bolstering renewable energy, and enhancing energy efficiency.

“The report confirms that the failure by oil and gas producing countries to rein in their production is making climate and economic catastrophe more likely everyday.”

“It is a stark reminder that we need an immediate halt to all new oil and gas projects, and for governments around the world to agree to a rapid and equitable phase out of all fossil fuels at this year’s UN climate talks in Dubai,” said Ioualalen.

Fossil fuels and climate

“Governments’ planned fossil fuel production would take us far beyond the brink of the 1.5°C limit, risking a future incompatible with survival. Just five rich global north countries will be responsible for the majority of planned new oil and gas extraction to 2050.”

“It is these countries that have the moral and historical responsibility to move first and fastest to phase out fossil fuel production, and provide the financial and capacity support to global south countries in a just energy transition to renewables.”

Transition to renewable energy 

“The report makes it clear that continued investments in fossil fuel infrastructure are threatening the transition to renewable energy and that governments will need to aggressively tackle fossil fuel production and use as well as deploy renewable energy at scale if they want to meet their own goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. The alternative is climate failure and a chaotic, expensive transition with lots of stranded assets,” said Ioualalen.

“At COP28, countries must come to an agreement on immediately ending fossil fuel expansion and building a just and equitable phase out of all fossil fuels, enabled by providing the necessary funding to triple renewable energy and doubling energy efficiency. We urge governments to arrive at COP28 ready to take action commensurate with what the science is telling us, for a fast, fair, full, and funded phase out of fossil fuels.”

The report serves as a dire reminder that investments in fossil fuel infrastructure threaten the transition to renewables and that aggressive action on reducing fossil fuel production and consumption is needed to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

More about fossil fuels and climate change

The perilous relationship between fossil fuel combustion and the climate crisis has never been more evident. As the backbone of modern industrialization, coal, oil, and gas have powered nations and driven progress. Yet, this progress comes at a steep environmental cost, highlighted by the fact that fossil fuels are responsible for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The carbon footprint of progress

As discussed above, the stark findings of the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveal that our reliance on fossil fuels is the predominant force behind the relentless march of global warming. Coal stands out as the most egregious offender, contributing over 0.3°C to the global average temperature rise — a third of the increase witnessed to date.

Lethal consequences

The ramifications of fossil fuel usage extend beyond temperature metrics. The extraction and burning of these resources are chief culprits in air pollution, an insidious killer claiming millions of lives annually. These fatalities are a silent testament to the toxic legacy of a fossil-fuel-dependent world.

Planet in peril

The consequences of burning fossil fuels are manifest in the distortion of Earth’s delicate ecosystems and the health crises they provoke. The balance of life, sustained for millennia, is now under threat as we witness the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere in 800,000 years. This dramatic increase in greenhouse gases has supercharged the greenhouse effect, resulting in an alarming ascent in Earth’s surface temperature.

Disconnect between knowledge and action

Awareness of the impending climate catastrophe has never been higher, yet paradoxically, plans are afoot to increase fossil fuel production by around 110% by 2030 — far exceeding the limits necessary to mitigate global warming.

This glaring contradiction between what is known and what is being done underscores the immense challenges ahead. It is a clarion call for transformative policy reforms and a pivot toward sustainable energy solutions.

Fossil fuels, climate change, and the future

Confronted with these stark realities, the need for a concerted global effort to transition away from fossil fuels has never been clearer. As we stand at the crossroads of history, the decisions made today will shape the legacy of our era.

Will we heed the warnings and steer our collective future towards sustainability, or will we continue down the path of environmental degradation? The answer to this question will determine the fate of our planet and the legacy we leave for generations to come.

In the face of such daunting challenges, it is incumbent upon leaders, policymakers, and each individual to take decisive action. The transition to sustainable energy systems is not just a policy imperative but a moral one, to preserve the integrity of our environment and ensure the health and well-being of all inhabitants of our planet.

The time for change is now, and it begins with a resolute commitment to end our reliance on the very fuels that have brought us to this precipice.

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