Winding Down Fossils is Essential, Doable to Keep Average Warming to 1.5°C
Countries must adopt an “orderly wind down” of oil, gas, and coal production to avoid greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 that are 66% higher than what it would take to keep the world on a 1.5°C climate pathway, according to a fossil fuel exit strategy released this week by the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT) initiative.
“Even if no new fossil fuel projects were built from today onwards, carbon emissions from existing projects are still far too high to stay on course towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement,” the initiative writes, citing the 30-page strategy by Dr. Sven Teske and Dr. Sarah Niklas of the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney, Australia. But “this transition is not only required but completely feasible,” since all regions of the world “have enough renewable energy to provide energy access to all using existing technologies.”
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A map in the strategy report shows available renewable energy potential exceeding demand on every continent and in every region of the world—modestly in Europe, moderately in India, and drastically everywhere else. “Even with conservative estimates that account for environmental safeguards, land constraints, and technical feasibility, solar and wind energy could meet primary energy demand more than 50 times over, indicating no new fossil fuel development is needed,” Teske and Niklas write.
“This new report shows clearly that we have more than enough fossil fuels above ground and under production and that we have the technology and renewable energy capacity to more than meet the world’s energy needs,” said FFNPT Initiative Chair Tzeporah Berman. “Fast-tracking a wind down of oil, gas, and coal and focusing on expanding renewable production and infrastructure is not only possible, but it will save lives.”
To make the transition, “national governments must establish binding limits for the extraction volumes for coal, oil and gas,” Teske added. And “a just transition for workers from the fossil to the renewable energy industry is essential.”
The report includes comparisons between the FFNPT Initiative’s projections and the net-zero roadmap published last month by the International Energy Agency. It warns that simply stopping fossil fuel expansion, as shown in the IEA roadmap, is “far from sufficient” to hold average global warming to 1.5°C.
“A 1.5°C climate mitigation pathway will have a significant impact on the global fossil fuel industry,” with average rates of decline of 9% for gas, 6% for oil, and 5% for coal. Between 2020 and 2050, it produces a 92.5% reduction in fossil fuel production, compared to 60.3% along the no-expansion path.
Emissions fall from 34.7 to 18.1 billion tonnes between 2018 and 2050 in the non-expansion scenario, and to 5.3 billion tonnes on a 1.5°C pathway.
The analysis “shows that even if the world were to stop expanding fossil fuel production overnight, emissions from existing projects would still result in a substantial over-production of fossil fuels beyond what is possible within the 1.5°C temperature target,” Teske and Niklas write. “Worryingly, the fossil fuel industry is continuing to expand production, leading to an even greater overshoot that will become harder to rectify the more time that passes.”