Essential global environmental goals which aim to safeguard life as we know it are being ignored by the world’s major fossil fuel producers which are on course to exceed the limits set out in the Paris climate agreement by 50 – 120 per cent, a UN study shows.
The Paris climate agreement set out the limits for greenhouse gas production required to keep the average temperature of the planet “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, with the stated aim being to curb warming at 1.5C above average.
But the UN’s new Production Gap report, which is the first to compare countries’ plans for fossil fuel burning, examines 10 major producers, including the US and China, are nowhere near on course to meeting these essential targets.
By 2030, the 10 countries’ planned production would lead to 39 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide emissions, 53% higher than what is needed to reduce temperature rises to 2C and 21 Gt, or 120%, more than is needed for 1.5C, the report said.
The main fuel contributing to this is coal.
The report says that by 2030, “countries plan to produce 150 per cent (5.2 billion tonnes) more coal than would be consistent with a 2C pathway, and 280 per cent (6.4 billion tonnes) more than would be consistent with a 1.5C pathway.”
But gas and oil are also on track to exceed carbon budgets, as countries continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure that “locks in” oil and gas use.
“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” said Måns Nilsson, the executive director of Stockholm Environment Institute, which helped produce the report.
He added: “This report shows that governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole – and we need to stop digging.”
The Production Gap report comes after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap report, which shows that countries around the world are falling short of the emission reductions, and even if they met the Paris climate agreement targets, would still lead to a disastrous 3-4C rise.
Just half a degree additional warming is expected to have a catastrophic impact on our planet. According to the UN’s 2018 IPCC report, in a plus 1.5C world, sea level rise would be 10 centimetres less than with 2C, exposing about 10 million fewer people in coastal areas to risks such as floods, storm surges or salt spray damaging crops.
Meanwhile economic growth is projected to be slower at 2C warming than at 1.5C for many developed and developing countries, drained by impacts such as floods or droughts which can undermine crop growth, and an increase in human and animal deaths from heatwaves.
“Over the past decade, the climate conversation has shifted. There’s greater recognition of the role that the unfettered expansion of fossil fuel production plays in undermining climate progress,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Centre.
“This report shows, for the first time, just how big the disconnect is between Paris temperature goals and countries’ plans and policies for coal, oil, and gas production. It also shares solutions, suggesting ways to help close this gap through domestic policies and international cooperation.”
For the first time since the Paris Agreement meetings in 2015, countries are due to review and update their climate goals by the end of 2020, making the next 12 months a critical period for scientists and campaigners to maintain pressure on governments.
Earlier this month, a separate report found three-quarters of the commitments made by countries under the Paris agreement so far were “totally inadequate”.