Fossil fuel production plans out of sync with Paris limits: UN report

As climate disasters increase in intensity and frequency around the world, the 2021 Production Gap Report by leading research institutes and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on Wednesday found that despite increased climate ambitions and net-zero commitments the governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than what would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report, first launched in 2019, measures the gap between the governments’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the global production levels consistent with meeting the Paris Agreement temperature limits.

Two years later, the 2021 report finds the production gap largely unchanged.

Over the next two decades, the governments are collectively projecting an increase in global oil and gas production, and only a modest decrease in coal production. Taken together, their plans and projections see global, total fossil fuel production increasing to at least 2040, creating an ever-widening production gap.

“The devastating impacts of climate change are here for all to see. There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5 degrees C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.

“At COP26 and beyond, the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition. This is what climate ambition looks like.”

The 2021 Production Gap Report provides country profiles for 15 major producer countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the UAE, the UK, and the USA.

The country profiles show that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy support for fossil fuel production.

“The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5 degrees C,” said Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and SEI scientist.

“However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn.”

The report’s main findings include the world’s governments plan to produce around 110 per cent more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, and 45 per cent more than consistent with 2 degrees C.

The size of the production gap has remained largely unchanged compared to the prior assessments.

It finds governments’ production plans and projections would lead to about 240 per cent more coal, 57 per cent more oil, and 71 per cent more gas in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

The global gas production is projected to increase the most between 2020 and 2040 based on governments’ plans. This continued, long-term global expansion in gas production is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits.

“Early efforts from development finance institutions to cut international support for fossil fuel production are encouraging, but these changes need to be followed by concrete and ambitious fossil fuel exclusion policies to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C,” said Lucile Dufour, Senior Policy Advisor, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The report is produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), ODI, E3G, and UNEP.

More than 40 researchers contributed to the analysis and review, spanning numerous universities, think tanks and other research organisations.

Responding to the 2020 Production Gap Report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “Recent announcements by the world’s largest economies to end international financing of coal are a much-needed step in phasing out fossil fuels.

“But, as this report starkly shows, there is still a long way to go to a clean energy future. It is urgent that all remaining public financiers as well as private finance, including commercial banks and asset managers, switch their funding from coal to renewables to promote full decarbonization of the power sector and access to renewable energy for all.”