Climate goals need 6% yearly fossil fuel cuts, UN says
Oil, gas and coal production must fall six percent a year in order to limit catastrophic global warming, the United Nations warned Wednesday, even as high-polluting nations bank on fossil fuels to drive their Covid-19 recoveries.
Wednesday's edition found that despite this year's dip in production due to the pandemic, that gap remains large: countries plan a two-percent annual increase through 2030.
This is equivalent to more than double the fossil fuel production that would be consistent with the Paris deal's more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
The assessment comes at a critical juncture in humanity's battle to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with several major polluters including China and Japan having pledged to reach net-zero emissions within decades.
But the report authors stressed that emissions need lowering immediately, and that the Covid-19 pandemic offered governments a golden opportunity to rebuild their economies without relying on polluting fuels.
"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, lead author and director of the Stockholm Environment Institute's US Center.
"The research is similarly clear on the solution: government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them."
Climate vs industry
The 2015 Paris accord saw nations promise to limit warming to "well below" 2C through sweeping emissions cuts.
With just over 1C of warming so far, extreme weather events such as wildfires and tropical storms have been rendered more powerful and frequent by rising temperatures.
The UN calculates that to keep the 1.5C goal within reach, nations need to reduce emissions by more than 7.5 percent every year this decade.
This decade, coal, oil and gas production would have to decline annually by 11 percent, 4.0 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively, it found.
But rich polluters plan not only to continue producing fossil fuels, but also expand their extraction and use.
The report showed paths that governments could take for a "just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels" in the wake of Covid-19.
"The pandemic-driven demand shock and the plunge of oil prices this year has once again demonstrated the vulnerability of many fossil-fuel-dependent regions and communities," said Ivetta Garasimchuk, a lead author from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
"The only way out of this trap is diversification of these economies beyond fossil fuels."
The industry watchdog Global Witness said in an extensive 2019 report that all new upstream oil and gas projects were incompatible with the 1.5C emissions pathway.
"The production and use of coal, oil and gas needs to decrease quickly if we are to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
He said immediate action was needed to ensure "a climate-safe future and strong, sustainable economies for all countries".