According to a new analysis, burning the world’s fossil fuel reserves would emit more global warming emissions than have been since the industrial revolution, easily blowing up the remaining carbon balance before societies are subjected to catastrophic global warming.
If governments allow the extraction and use of identified reserves of coal, oil and gas, a huge 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted, according to what has been described as the first public database on the production of fossil fuels.
The database, which covers roughly three-quarters of global energy production, reveals that the United States and Russia each have enough fossil fuel reserves to alone consume the world’s remaining carbon balance before the planet falls into 1.5. ° C (2.7 ° F) or more warming than in the pre-industrial era.
Across all countries, there is enough fossil fuel to blow this remaining budget seven times, pushing people and ecosystems into disastrous heatwaves, floods, droughts and other impacts never before seen in human history. Governments have decided to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, but have largely refused to actively stop leasing or mining fossil fuels.
“There are governments issuing new coal licenses or permits that are completely decoupled from their climate commitments,” said Mark Campanale, founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, which on Monday is rolling out the new global fossil fuel registry with Global Energy Monitor.
“It’s like a country announcing that they are following a climate change diet and that they will eat salad for lunch and then sneak back into their office and make their way through a box of donuts,” he said. “You’re not on a diet if you fill your face with donuts, but that’s what’s happening to countries and their fossil fuel developers.”
For the world to have an equal chance of avoiding 1.5 ° C or more of global warming, scientists have estimated that the world can emit only 400 to 500 billion more tons of greenhouse gases. This would result in a drastic reduction in emissions by about half this decade before completely zeroing them out by the middle of the century.
However, the United States alone has the potential to release 577 billion tons of emissions, most of them from coal, through its known fossil fuel reserves. While Joe Biden chaired America’s first ever climate change legislation and vowed to address what he called an “existential threat to humanity,” his administration continued to grant leases for oil and gas drilling, including in large areas of the Gulf of Mexico, site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Of these reserves, 27 billion tons of emissions are expected to be released from approved US projects already under development, which include 33.2 billion barrels of oil, according to the database.
Russia, meanwhile, has enough fossil fuels identified to release 490 billion tons of greenhouse gases and is currently developing projects that are expected to emit 11 billion tons. China, India and Australia also have enough fossil fuel reserves to push the world to the brink of climate breakdown.
While countries agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accords to curb global warming, three decades of international talks have yielded no commitment to effectively reduce the root cause of the climate emergency: the burning of fossil fuels. At last year’s UN talks in Glasgow, diplomatic disputes yielded promises to “gradually lower,” but not eliminate, the use of coal.
“Countries like to talk about emissions, they don’t want to talk about fossil fuels,” Campanale said. “Emissions come from the use of fossil fuels and nothing can be done about the emissions until a conclusion is actually reached on what you intend to do with fossil fuels.
“When we are in a situation where you have two, three, four times as many fossil fuels in development for the remaining carbon balance, it tells you that politics is more than slightly out of sync. It’s basically out of sync. “
Many large companies are moving forward on the assumption of greater use of fossil fuels, despite government commitments. In May, the Guardian revealed that there are nearly 200 “carbon bomb” projects underway around the world, led by companies such as Exxon, BP and Shell, which would each bring at least one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the world. course of their life. Private equity firms also continue to pour billions of dollars into the industry.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine exacerbated this situation by raising oil and gas prices and leading European leaders to seek expansion of gas imports from around the world. Campanale said new gas import plants “risk getting stuck” as they are replaced by low-cost renewable energies, such as solar and wind, causing investors to pressure companies to embrace a greener future more quickly. avoid financial destruction.
That pressure is building. More than 200 health organizations, including the World Health Organization, last week called for a global fossil fuel “non-proliferation” treaty, and upcoming UN climate talks in Egypt will see activists urge countries to end to their issuance of mining leases.
But António Guterres, UN secretary general, warned that the pace of the energy transition is not fast enough, with global emissions already returning to pre-pandemic levels. The recent heatwaves in Europe, the United States and China, as well as the catastrophic floods in Pakistan, are the “price of humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels,” Guterres said.
“The current” free for all “of fossil fuels must end now,” added the UN secretary general. “It’s a recipe for permanent climate chaos and suffering.”