World governments need to reduce fossil fuel production by 6% every year over the next decade to reach a 1.5°C pathway and limit catastrophic warming, according to new research.
Global fossil fuel production is projected to be over 120% more than what is required for alignment with the 1.5°C warming target of the Paris Agreement, according to a major report published today (2 December) by the UN Environment Programme and other major research groups.
“This report shines a light on how government action, in many cases, risks locking us into fossil-fuelled pathways,” said Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute, which contributed to the research. “It’s time to imagine, and plan for, a better future.”
UNEP’s Production Gap Report, first launched in 2019, measures the gap between the Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of fossil fuels. This year’s report also looks at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how recovery measures could promote a green transition.
To be aligned with the Paris objectives, production of coal, oil and gas would need to decrease by 11%, 4% and 3% respectively, but the report estimates production for each of these will grow by 2% instead until 2030.
“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 the United Nations Environment Programme.
“As we seek to reboot economies following the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in low-carbon energy and infrastructure will be good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air,” she added.
COVID-19 is expected to reduce fossil fuel production by up to 7%. Even though the slowdown is expected to be temporary, it could also mark a potential turning point in fossil fuel production, UNEP hopes.
This year, renewables overtook fossil fuels for the first time in EU power generation, marking a “symbolic moment” in the transition of Europe’s electricity sector, analysts said.
The plunge of oil prices this year has shown the vulnerability of fossil-fuel-dependent regions and communities, according to Ivetta Gerasimchuk, from the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada.
“Governments should direct recovery funds towards economic diversification and a transition to clean energy that offers better long-term economic and employment potential,” said Gerasimchuk, who is one of the lead authors of the report. “This may be one of the most challenging undertakings of the 21st century, but it’s necessary and achievable,” she added.
In 2019, G20 countries spent $130bn on fossil fuel subsidies, not including the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the G20 have committed $234.73 billion to fossil fuels, compared to $151.29 billion for clean energy, according to The Energy Policy Tracker.
Recovery funds in the EU are also available to fossil fuels like natural gas, despite objections from environmental NGOs and policymakers in the centre-left.
Europe is the largest global importer of gas, according to the World Energy Outlook 2019 and could influence global production by reducing its own demand for fossil fuels.
The report outlines six areas of action for governments to wind down fossil fuels in recovery plans, including reducing government support for fossil fuels, increasing support for just transitions, improved transparency and global cooperation.
“The research is abundantly clear that we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]