Global fossil fuel production under four pathways from 2015–2040. Source: Production Gap Report 2020
Global fossil fuel production under four pathways from 2015–2040. Source: Production Gap Report 2020

Huge gap in climate change action

The world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by six per cent a year to keep global warming to 1.5C but countries instead plan to ramp up production.

The United Nations has released a special issue of the annual Production Gap Report, which looks at what countries are doing on climate change and whether this is in line with climate change goals.

The report noted that if the world is to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5C then it would need to decrease fossil fuel production by around 6 per cent every year between 2020 and 2030. Coal would need to decline by 11 per cent a year, oil by four per cent and gas production by three per cent.

Instead projections show that countries are actually planning actions that would see a yearly increase of two per cent. By 2030 there would be double the amount of fossil fuels being produced to be compatible with the 1.5C limit.

Australia is one of the countries that plans to increase their fossil fuel production, and this year forecast an eight per cent increase in coal production to 2024, and a 19 per cent in gas production, compared to its previous estimates. It later released a revised forecast that showed a decline in production but this only went up to the year 2022.

Prior to the pandemic, the report noted there were some encouraging signs, with Indonesia and the United States lowering their projections for future coal production.

However, Russia has increased its projected future coal production, while Australia, Canada, the US and Russia have also forecast even larger increases in their oil and gas production.

Global fossil fuel production under four pathways from 2015–2040. Left axis is measure of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). Black line represents actual production, red line is trajectory of current plans and mustard line shows climate pledges. Green area shows production consistent with 2C warming and blue area shows 1.5C. Source: Production Gap Report 2020
Global fossil fuel production under four pathways from 2015–2040. Left axis is measure of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). Black line represents actual production, red line is trajectory of current plans and mustard line shows climate pledges. Green area shows production consistent with 2C warming and blue area shows 1.5C. Source: Production Gap Report 2020

Higher amounts of coronavirus recovery funds are also going to the development of fossil fuels rather than the clean energy industry. As of October 14, G20 governments had committed $206 billion to fossil fuel production and related activities, compared to just $136 billion for clean fuels.

While preliminary estimates suggest the coronavirus pandemic may have driven down fossil fuel production by seven per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, this is not expected to last.

"This would be the largest annual decrease in global fossil fuel production levels since global statistics have been recorded," the report noted.

But it said several energy industry forecasters believe that demand and supply of oil and gas will rebound in the long term to pre-coronavirus projections.

Australia Institute climate and energy director Richie Merzian said Australia couldn't have any credibility on climate action while opening new coal mines and orchestrating a gas-fired recovery.

He said the UN report also highlighted that Australia's fossil fuel production was privately owned and tended to be politically organised and put considerable resources into lobbying.

"A few, powerful fossil fuel stakeholders are frustrating efforts to transition to cleaner energy and cleaner exports," Mr Merzian said.

To overcome these challenges, he said the UN report called for weakening these interests, supporting those who were trying to create change, and cooperating with other firms and unions.

 

AUSTRALIA'S TRANSITION EASIER THAN OTHER COUNTRIES'

The good news is that Australia was identified as one of the countries that can transition more easily away from fossil fuels.

Australia's diversified economy means it does not rely on fossil fuel jobs as much as countries like China, South Africa and Poland.

Being a wealthy nation with a high per-capita gross national income means Australia also has the resources to help workers transition into new jobs and to provide income support and training for them while they do so. Unions and other legal structures also protect the rights of workers.

However, the report noted that fossil fuel production in Australia and other countries like the US, Canada, Norway, Germany and the UK, were often concentrated in a few small regions that were often very reliant on the jobs and money that it brings in.

RELATED: Australia at bottom of global pack

Some regions rely on fossil fuel production for jobs and a thriving economy. Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP
Some regions rely on fossil fuel production for jobs and a thriving economy. Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

A key challenge was to avoid adverse socio-economic and political impacts in these impacted regions, the report said.

It said a deliberate and systemic transition away from fossil fuels would help ensure that the process was done in a sustainable and equitable way.

This is in contrast to the decline achieved through the pandemic, which has come at a severe economic cost thanks to travel restrictions and other measures.

"The research is abundantly clear that we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases," lead author of the report and Stockholm Environment Institute's US centre director Michael Lazarus said.

"The research is similarly clear on the solution: government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them."

The Production Gap Report report was produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Overseas Development Institute, E3G, the United Nations Environment Programme and other major researchers.

Dozens of researchers contributed to the analysis and review, spanning numerous universities and additional research organisations.

 

charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2

 

Originally published as Huge gap in climate change action


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