Dec 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The chasm between CO2 goals and energy production

Reproduced from The Production Gap Report: 2020 Special Report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Projected and planned levels of global oil, natural gas and coal production are way out of step with the kind of emissions cuts needed to hold global warming significantly in check, a new analysis shows.

Why it matters: The "production gap" report from the UN's environment agency and other researchers provides another lens onto how the world is nowhere near on track to meet the Paris climate deal's goals.

The latest: The report estimates the emissions from burning fuels produced under an assessment of countries' estimated and planned extraction levels.

By the numbers: A pathway consistent with holding long-term warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels — the most ambitious and super-longshot Paris goal — would require fossil fuel production decreases of 6% annually over the next decade.

  • Production of coal, the most CO2-heavy fuel, would need to fall by 11% annually over the next decade under the long-term 1.5°C pathway. Oil and natural gas would need to see smaller declines.
  • A pathway toward a 2°C target, which is still very hard, would need a 2% annual decline in fossil fuel production over the next decade.

Threat level: They found "countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit."

The big picture: The report lays bare the scope of the challenge at a pretty pivotal moment...

  • China, Japan and other countries, as well as many giant energy producers, are making long-term decarbonization pledges — but lots of blanks need to be filled in, to say nothing of actually trying to implement the splashy goals.
  • The next big UN climate conference in late 2021 is meant as a forum for countries worldwide to commit to stronger and more concrete steps.
  • President-elect Joe Biden is vowing to make global climate diplomacy a priority, bringing on former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special envoy.

Between the lines: The authors say the pandemic-related production declines this year won't lead to the long-term changes needed to get on track toward those temperature targets.

  • They also warn that the shape of governments' economic recovery packages thus far favor fossil fuels over low-carbon energy.
  • As of mid-November, G20 governments have committed over $230 billion to "activities that support fossil fuel production and consumption," though that's defined very broadly and includes things like aid to airports and airlines, highways, and automakers.
  • In contrast, there's been roughly $150 billion for renewables, efficiency, low-carbon transit like rail and cycling, and other climate-friendly investments.

Of note: The report is from the UN, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Overseas Development Institute and the climate think tank E3G.

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