Fossil fuel production far exceeds climate targets, UN says

A demonstrator holds a sign as activists call for a "Global Day of Climate Action" in Madrid, Spain. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The world plans to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than would be consistent with curbing global warming, the United Nations and research groups said on Wednesday (Dec 2) in the latest warning over climate change.

Some of the largest fossil fuel producers in the world, including Australia, China, Canada and the United States, are among those pursuing major expansions in fossil fuel supply.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations have committed to a long-term goal of limiting average temperature rise to below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5 deg C.

The 1.5 deg C target requires fossil fuel production to decrease by around 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030.

Instead, countries are planning an average annual increase of 2 per cent, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5 deg C limit, the report said.

Between 2020 and 2030, global coal, oil, and gas production would have to fall annually by 11 per cent, 4 per cent, and 3 per cent respectively to be consistent with a 1.5 deg C pathway.

But government plans indicate an average 2 per cent annual increase for each fuel.

"This gap is large, with countries aiming to produce 120 per cent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C," the report said.

The report was produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as experts from the Stockholm Environment Institute, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Overseas Development Institute, think-tank E3G and universities.

Tougher targets

Carbon-generating forms of energy face increasing regulation which can make them less attractive to corporations and their investors.

"Listed companies have started to acknowledge the risk of sanctioning stranded assets; the risks for governments are similar, but with outcomes that will impact hundreds of millions of people," said Mike Coffin, analyst at think-tank Carbon Tracker.

"Whether or not individual petrostates care about the physical effects of climate change, they must recognise the impact falling fossil fuel income will have on their economies and take action to diversify," he added.

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures to halt its spread have led to short-term drops in coal, oil, and gas production, but pre-Covid-19 plans and stimulus measures point to a continuation of growing global fossil fuel production, the UNEP report said.

Group of 20 (G-20) governments have committed US$233 billion (S$312 billion) in Covid-19 measures so far to sectors responsible for fossil fuel production and consumption, far more than to clean energy (US$146 billion).

US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to end US fossil fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars a year, but is likely to meet resistance from lawmakers in a narrowly divided Congress, including from within his own party.

"Governments must work on diversifying their economies and supporting workers, including through Covid-19 recovery plans that do not lock in unsustainable fossil fuel pathways but instead share the benefits of green and sustainable recoveries," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"We can and must recover better together," he added.

The United Nations is holding an online event next week to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement and the pressure is on governments to come forward with tougher climate targets before the end of the year.

According to Climate Action Tracker, which measures government climate action against what is needed to limit global temperature rise, current policies put the world on track to a 2.9 deg C temperature rise this century.

However, if all governments meet their 2050 net zero emissions targets, warming could be as low as 2.1 deg C.

This year is set to be the second hottest on record after 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organisation and other data sources.

"This year's devastating forest fires, floods, and droughts and other unfolding extreme weather events serve as powerful reminders for why we must succeed in tackling the climate crisis," said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

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