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Gulf between fossil fuel production and Paris targets

The world must cut its fossil fuel production by 6% every year between 2020 and 2030 to follow a 1.5°C warming pathway, according to the 2020 edition of The Production Gap. But the report – produced by the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) and other research organisations – finds that countries are projecting and planning annual increases of 2% on average.

If the forecast growth were to come to pass, it would result in more than double the production consistent with a 1.5°C limit. Between 2020 and 2030, global coal, oil, and gas production would have to decline annually by 11%, 4% and 3%, respectively, to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s lower temperature target. 

Initial estimates suggest that global fossil fuel production declined about 7% last year, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown measures. The Production Gap states that coal, oil and gas supply could decrease by 8%, 7%, and 3%, respectively, in 2020 relative to 2019.

However, pre-COVID plans and post-COVID economic stimulus packages indicate the continued existence of a gap between fossil fuel production and climate action. To date, G20 governments have allocated some $230bn in pandemic recovery funds to fossil fuel producing and consuming industries. Meanwhile, renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon infrastructure have received some $150bn, says UNEP.

‘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,’ says Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of 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,’ he adds.

The Production Gap suggests that policymakers can support a ‘managed, just and equitable wind-down of fossil fuel production through six areas of action: sustainable stimulus and recovery packages; increased support for just and equitable transitions; reduced support for fossil fuels; improved transparency; restrictions on production; and global cooperation.

‘As we seek to reboot economies following the COVID-19 pandemic, investing instead in low-carbon energy and infrastructure is good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UNEP. ‘Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future.’

The report concludes that countries with lower dependence on fossil fuels – and higher financial and institutional capacity – can most rapidly execute a transition. Some of the largest fossil fuel producers in this group, such as Australia, the US and Canada, are currently among those pursuing major expansions in fossil fuel supply.

But those with higher levels of dependency and lower levels of capacity will require financial and technical support from the international community.

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Organisation: UNEP

Subjects: Climate change - Metering, monitoring and targeting - Oil and gas -

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