Study finds most fossil fuels must live underground

Study finds most fossil fuels must live underground

A heavy haul truck drives through Suncor Energy Inc.’s Millennium Mine in this aerial photo taken over the Athabasca oil sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Monday September 10, 2018.

Ben Nelms | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON – The vast majority of the world’s known reserves of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to have any hope of avoiding the worst effects of the climate emergency, new research has found.

A peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature found that 90% of coal is expected to remain unexplored and about 60% of petroleum and fossil methane is expected to remain underground, even as global temperatures rise by 50%. % is likely to be retained. 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial levels.

This temperature limit is the lower target of the 2015 Paris Agreement, an agreement widely seen as essential to avert an irreversible climate crisis. The 1.5 ° C level is particularly important because beyond this internationally agreed target, the so-called tipping point is more likely.

The study estimates that global oil and gas production is expected to fall 3% each year by 2050, which means most fields are expected to peak in production now or in the next decade.

Countries heavily dependent on oil and gas for state revenues, such as OPEC members, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, are considered particularly high risk unless they do not quickly diversify their economies.

The researchers, led by Dan Welsby, an environmental and energy economist at University College London, noted that the “hazy” forecasts were probably somewhat conservative, given the more than 50% chance of limit warming to 1.5 degrees to remain untested. More carbon will be needed, and due to uncertainties surrounding the timely development of scalable negative carbon emissions technologies.

What does this mean for specific countries?

The need to keep the world’s fossil fuel reserves on the ground varies from country to country, according to the analysis. It is based on regional differences in the extent of fossil fuel extraction and the carbon intensity and cost of energy resources globally. For example, highly polluting reserves such as Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan oil are released into the ground in this model.

The study’s authors use the results of research published in 2015 to assess how much of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain untapped in order to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The research has now been updated to examine what is needed to limit warming to 1.5 ° C.

A freight train transports coal from the Gunnedah coal processing and preparation plant operated by Whitehaven Coal Limited in Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia on Tuesday October 13, 2020.

David Gray | Bloomberg | Getty Images

For example, the United States, Russia and the former Soviet states hold half of the world’s coal reserves, but they are expected to keep 97% underground, according to the study. For Australia, the figure stands at 95%, while China and India are expected to leave 76% of their coal reserves in the ground, according to the study.

Meanwhile, 84% of Canada’s oil sands reserves are expected to go untapped, and about two-thirds of Middle Eastern states’ oil and gas reserves are not expected to be mined. According to research, Europe will have to leave 72% of its oil reserves and 43% of its gas reserves underground, while Africa will have to get away with almost half of its oil and gas reserves. .

To keep global warming below 1.5 ° C, modeling also suggests that all untapped oil and gas resources in the Arctic should be kept in the ground.

The results confirm the yawning gap between their commitment to meaningful climate action and the rhetoric of policymakers and business leaders in favor of a so-called ‘energy transition’.

The burning of fossil fuels is the main driver of the climate crisis, but the global dependence on fossil fuels will only worsen in the coming decades. As a result, world leaders are under heavy pressure to keep promises made under the Paris Agreement ahead of the much-anticipated UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland in early November.

Last month, the world’s top climatologists issued their toughest warning about an increasingly serious climate emergency. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the August 9 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a “code red for humanity”. He added: “The report should spell the end of coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet. “

Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency said it did not need to invest in the development of new fossil fuels if the world was to deal effectively with a severe climate emergency.

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