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Climate activists participate in protest march in Washington, DC, US. Climate activists participate in protest march in Washington, DC, US.   (2021 Getty Images)

UN-led report: Fossil fuel plans far outstrip climate goals

A UNEP-led report says that despite increased climate ambition and net-zero commitments, governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of energy from fossil fuels in 2030, than commitments to limiting global warming.

By Robin Gomes     

Despite increased climate-change ambitions and net-zero commitments, governments around the world still plan to produce and consume more fossil fuels in 2030 than what would be consistent with the 2015 Paris climate accord’s target of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). 

The startling finding came in a report by leading research institutes and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), released on Wednesday.  The 2021 Production Gap Report, now in its 3rd edition since 2019, measures the gap between governments’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the global production levels consistent with meeting the Paris Agreement temperature limits. The 2021 report, which comes just 10 days ahead of the UN’s crucial Climate Change Summit (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, finds this production gap largely unchanged.

Major fossil fuel-producing countries

Several research and academic institutions collaborated, involving more than 80 experts, in bringing out the report, focusing on 15 major fossil fuel-producing countries. The leading fossil fuel producers are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The country profiles show that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy support for fossil fuel production.

110% more fossil fuels in 2030

The study points out that in the coming 2 decades, governments are collectively projecting an increase in global oil and gas production, and only a modest decrease in coal production. Taken together, their plans and projections see global, total fossil fuel production increasing out to at least 2040, creating an ever-widening production gap.

According to the report’s findings, the world’s governments plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 45% more than consistent with 2°C. The size of the production gap has remained largely unchanged compared to prior assessments.

Governments’ production plans and projections would lead to about 240% more coal, 57% more oil, and 71% more gas in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Global gas production is projected to increase the most between 2020 and 2040 based on governments’ plans.

The G20 countries have channeled over $300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic - more than they have towards clean energy.

Still time left

According to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, the report “serves as a crucial reminder that climate change is already affecting our lives today: the damages are widespread, rapid, and intensifying”. However, she said, “There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5°C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing.” “At COP26 and beyond,” she said, “the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition. This is what climate ambition looks like.”

According to Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author of the report and scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), “The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C.” “However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn."

Reacting to the report, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres noted that in recent times, the world’s largest economies had declared “to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels.” “But, as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future.”  He urged financiers and investors to “switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all”.

20 October 2021, 13:22