Vast majority of fossil fuels ‘must stay in ground’ to stem climate crisis

Many publications report on a new scientific study showing that most fossil fuel reserves owned today by countries and companies must not be extracted if the world is to achieve its climate targets. According to the Guardian, 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas reserves should remain in the ground if there is to be “even a 50% chance of keeping global heating below 1.5C”, the stretch goal of the Paris Agreement. The newspaper notes that this is a poor outlook for the fossil fuel industry, as it suggests that “oil, gas and coal production must have already peaked and will decline at 3% a year from now”, meaning “trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets could become worthless”. The researchers used a “complex model of global energy use that prioritised use of the fossil fuels that are cheapest to extract, such as Saudi oil, in using up the remaining carbon budget”, it continues. Among other things, this means there should be virtually no fracking or oil from tar sands, the US, Russia and the former Soviet states with half of global coal reserve will need to keep 97% in the ground, and China and India with a quarter of coal reserves will need to keep 76% in the ground, it adds.

ABC News has the Australian angle on the story, noting that Australia must leave “almost all its coal in the ground, as well as a good chunk of its oil and gas” (the figure for unextractable coal reserves in Australia is 95%). The Australian also takes this regional angle on the story. BBC News reports that the scientists behind the new study say they hope the “stark numbers” will inspire the political will to move swiftly away from fossil-fuel reliance. According to Associated Press, the study is an update by the team from University College London on numbers previously published in 2015, months before the Paris Agreement was signed. It adds that the previous study focused on the agreement’s other target of 2C and found that a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and 80% of coal reserves would need to stay in the ground to achieve it.

In a piece for the Conversation, the authors write that their analysis suggests that many countries with high dependencies on fossil fuels, such as Iraq and Angola, “will need to move out of fossil-fuel production relatively quickly, which raises concerns about how the transition can be managed fairly”. They note that the transition will require “measures that drive down fossil-fuel consumption, such as banning petrol cars or promoting renewable electricity generation, and those targeting production itself, including restrictions on new fossil fuel extraction licenses”. There is more coverage of the paper in New Scientist, CNN, MailOnline and the Hill.

Meanwhile, BBC News reports that residents and campaigners have “attacked” plans for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years at a planning inquiry. Plans for the mine – proposed for a site in Whitehaven, Cumbria – are being considered by the planning inspector, but have been accused of undermining the UK’s climate targets, the news website notes.

Related posts