Fossil fuel production far exceeds climate targets, U.N. says

by Reuters
Wednesday, 2 December 2020 14:00 GMT

General view shows Mexican state oil firm Pemex's Cadereyta refinery, in Cadereyta, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

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Countries are planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the fossil fuel production consistent with a 1.5C warming limit, says new report

* Fossil fuel production needs to fall by 6% a year

* Government plans show average 2% increase for fossil fuels

* COVID-19 recovery plans should not lock in fossil fuel use

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The world's governments plan to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than would be consistent with curbing global warming, the United Nations and research groups said on Wednesday in the latest warning over climate change.

Some of the largest fossil fuel producers in the world, including Australia, China, Canada and the United States, are among those pursuing major expansions in fossil fuel supply.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations have committed to a long-term goal of limiting average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5C. The United States is expected to rejoin the agreement when Joe Biden becomes president on Jan. 20.

This requires fossil fuel production decreasing by around 6% per year between 2020 and 2030.

Instead, countries are planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5C limit, the report said.

Between 2020 and 2030, global coal, oil, and gas production would have to fall annually by 11%, 4%, and 3% respectively to be consistent with a 1.5C pathway. But government plans and projections indicate an average 2% annual increase for each fuel.

"This gap is large, with countries aiming to produce 120% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5C," the report said.

The report was produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as experts from the Stockholm Environment Institute, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Overseas Development Institute, thinktank E3G and universities.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures to halt its spread have led to short-term drops in coal, oil, and gas production.

But pre-COVID-19 plans and stimulus measures point to a continuation of the growing global fossil fuel production gap, locking in severe climate disruption, the report said.

To date, G20 governments have committed $233 billion in COVID-19 measures to sectors responsible for fossil fuel production and consumption, far more than to clean energy ($146 billion).

Biden has promised to end U.S. fossil fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars a year but is likely to meet resistance due from lawmakers in a narrowly divided Congress, including from within his own party.

"Governments must work on diversifying their economies and supporting workers, including through COVID-19 recovery plans that do not lock in unsustainable fossil fuel pathways but instead share the benefits of green and sustainable recoveries," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

"We can and must recover better together," he added.

The United Nations is holding an online event next week to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement and the pressure is on governments to come forward with tougher climate targets before the end of the year.

According to Climate Action Tracker, which measures government climate action against what is needed to limit global temperature rise, current policies put the world on track to a 2.9C temperature rise this century.

However, if all governments meet their 2050 net zero emissions targets, warming could be as low as 2.1C.

Scientists say recent extreme weather, such as ferocious wildfires in the U.S. West, torrential rains in Africa, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic, is consistent with climate change and the world can expect more wild weather as greenhouse gas emissions continue.

"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 UNEP.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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