Unextractable Fossil Fuels In A 1.5 °C World


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New research published in the British scientific journal, Nature, finds that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Celsius at most) relative to preindustrial averages will require ambitious reductions in fossil fuel use. Researchers used a global energy systems model to determine the amount of fossil fuels that must be be left unextracted for a 50 percent chance of capping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2050.

By their calculations, close to 60 percent of the globe’s fossil oil and gas reserves, and nearly 90 percent of its coal will have to remain unextracted if humanity is to meet the Paris Climate Agreement‘s goal of limiting global temperature rising to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) relative preindustrial estimates. Fossil fuel use must continue to fall by at least 3 percent each ensuing year until the 2050 deadline.

By employing the TIMES Integrated Assessment Model, researchers were able to determine the sources (conversion, transportation, and distribution) of fossil fuels across various economic sectors. This framework was used to approximate energy demands in the simulated future scenario. The model depicts 16 different regions with oil reserves and trading networks that connect them. If “very high shares” of fossil fuel reserves that would be considered valuable for trade or energy production remain untouched, this can be considered a loss to the economies that could have used or sold them.

Fossil Fuels Burning

The research team, consisting of Dan Welsby, James Price, Steve Pye & Paul Ekins, state that they’ve underestimated the production changes that are actually required. In other words, the cuts suggested for the energy, transportation, and agriculture sectors posited in the study are likely not ambitious enough. Earlier this year, International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report outlining how greenhouse gas emissions would have to be halted to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) by the year 2050. Accomplishing the feat will require more stringent energy and environmental policies.

If developing nations are going to be allowed to continue to produce CO2 and other fossil fuels (and they should), carbon budgets will have to prioritize them, rather than allowing business as usual for the business and countries that have the largest carbon contributions. Nations that have already built resilient economies, including China, the United States, India, the Russian Federation, and Japan are world leaders in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Least Developed Countries Group of UNFCCC, the lowest income nations are those countries that have the least capacity to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. Therefore, the onus for reducing fossil fuel use falls squarely on the shoulders of those countries which have the highest emission rates.


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