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Wealthy nations on track to extract twice as much fossil fuels as allowed to limit climate change

The world’s nations have pledged to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels, which involves shutting down fossil fuel extraction as quickly as possible. But despite this promise, first reached six years ago during the Paris Climate Accords, the fossil-fuel-producing nations are on track to extract more than twice as much coal, oil and natural gas as would be permissible under this plan, a new United Nations report warns. 

The so-called production gap — the difference between countries’ climate pledges and their fossil-fuel production plans — hasn’t budged since the UN first examined it in 2019, indicating that international climate accords are still closer to theoretical promises than concrete plans. 

“Collectively, although many governments have pledged to lower their emissions and even set net-zero targets, they have not yet made plans to wind down production of the fossil fuels that, once burned, generate most of those emissions,” the report found. 

“[Government] plans for fossil fuel production are still far more in line with worsening climate disasters than they are with internationally agreed temperature limits,” it said. 

In fact, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 countries have spent more new funding on fossil fuels than clean energy, the report finds.

Climate deal faces challenges over spending


The report looks at fossil-fuel production in 15 countries — including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, the U.S. and the United Kingdom — that are collectively responsible for three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuel production. Half of the 15 have pledged to reach zero emissions by midcentury, but most are planning to increase their fossil-fuel extraction until at least 2030. 

So far, climate efforts from major fossil fuel extractors, including industry, have “focused on extracting fossil fuels in less-polluting ways, not on winding down production levels in line with climate goals,” the report said. While these mitigation efforts, such as developing carbon-capture technology and reducing methane leaks, are important, they fall far short of the changes science demands if global temperatures are to stay at a livable level. 

To have a chance of limiting the temperature increases to 1.5 degrees, production of coal needs to drop by 11% every year between 2020 and 2030, while production of oil and gas needs to drop by 4% and 3%, respectively, the report finds. Instead, production of oil and gas is set to increase, while coal production is projected to drop only modestly. (Indeed, Americans’ use of coal is set to increase modestly this year — the first time in seven years that annual use of the energy source has risen.)

To close that gap, the report urges governments to make concrete plans for winding down fossil fuel extraction, starting with state-owned companies, which are responsible for more than half the world’s extraction of such fuels. 

“Governments have a key role to play here,” Måns Nilsson, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute, said in the report. “It is imperative that fossil fuel-producing nations recognize their role and responsibility in closing the production gap and steering us towards a safe climate future.”

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