Burning world’s fossil fuel reserves could emit 3.5tn tons of greenhouse gas
The world will have released more planet-heating emissions than have occurred since the industrial revolution, analysis found
Burning the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels would emit more planet-heating emissions than have occurred since the industrial revolution, easily blowing the remaining carbon budget before societies are subjected to catastrophic global heating, a new analysis has found. An enormous 3.5tn tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted if governments allow identified reserves of coal, oil and gas to be extracted and used, according to what has been described as the first public database of fossil fuel production. The database, which covers around three-quarters of global energy production, reveals that the US and Russia each have enough fossil fuel reserves to single-handedly eat up the world’s remaining carbon budget before the planet is tipped into 1.5C (2.7F) or more of heating compared to the pre-industrial era.
Among all countries, there is enough fossil fuel to blow this remaining budget seven times over, propelling people and ecosystems into disastrous heatwaves, floods, drought and other impacts never seen before in human history. Governments have agreed to restrain global heating to 1.5C but have largely declined to actively halt new fossil fuel leases or extraction. “You’ve got governments issuing new licenses or permits for coal that are completely decoupled from their own climate commitments,” said Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker Initiative, which is launching the new Global Registry of Fossil Fuels with Global Energy Monitor on Monday. “It’s like a country announcing that they’re going on a climate change diet and they’re going to eat salad for lunch and then sneaking back to their office and working their way through a box of donuts,” he said. “You’re not on a diet if you’re stuffing your face with donuts, but that’s what’s happening with countries and their developers of fossil fuels.”
For the world to have an even chance of avoiding 1.5C or more of global heating, scientists have estimated the world can only emit 400 to 500bn more tons of greenhouses gases. This would involve drastically cutting emissions by around half this decade before zeroing them out entirely by the mid point of the century. However, the US alone has the potential to release 577bn tons of emissions, most of that from coal, through its known fossil fuel reserves. While Joe Biden has presided over America’s first ever climate change legislation and vowed to tackle what he has called an “existential threat to humanity”, his administration has continued to hand out leases for oil and gas drilling, including in vast swathes of the Gulf of Mexico, site of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Of these reserves, 27bn tons of emissions are set to be released from approved American projects already under development, which include 33.2bn barrels of oil, according to the database.
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