Climate Change

Fossil fuel plans of major producers not aligned with Paris Agreement goals, warns UNEP Report

Net Zero pledges by 17 major fossil fuel-producing countries, but plans not in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Wednesday 08 November 2023
Photo: iStock_

None of the 20 major fossil fuel-producing countries, including India, have committed to cutting down on their dependence on coal, oil and gas production to align with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Major producer governments are planning on producing around 110 per cent and 69 per cent more fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C and 2°C, respectively, it stated. Of the 20 such governments, 17 have pledged to go Net Zero.

“Governments’ plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining the energy transition needed to achieve Net-Zero emissions, throwing humanity’s future into question,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.

Read more: Adaptation Gap Report 2023: Funding to developing nations declines 15% despite international pledges, rising costs

More than 80 experts assessed the fossil fuel production gap — the difference between governments’ planned or projected fossil fuel production and the actual global production levels consistent with limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C.

The report looked at the production gap of 20 major producer countries responsible for 82 per cent of production and 73 per cent of consumption of the world’s fossil fuel supply. 

These include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

India has pledged to achieve Net-Zero emissions by 2070. The country expects to see a planned increase of 10.7 exajoules or EJ (an EJ is equal to 277.8 terawatt hours) in national coal production for 2030 relative to 2021. No data was available for oil and gas generation in the country.

India also has plans for significant increases in coal production through 2030 and will prioritise self-reliance, viewing the coal industry as key to generating income and employment, the report highlighted.

The US, on the other hand, is expected to decrease coal production for 2030 relative to 2021 by 5.1 EJ. Planned oil and gas generation are projected to go up by 5.2 EJ and 2.5 EJ by the end of the decade compared to 2021 levels, respectively.  

Developed countries view natural gas as a bridge fuel for electricity generation, as it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it replaced coal.

Read more: Adaptation gap in developing countries widening even as extreme weather events worsen: UNEP

However, experts have warned that natural gas does not guarantee zero emissions and, in most places, it will be more expensive than renewable energy.

Countries overlook upstream emissions from gas extraction and transport, such as fugitive emissions (leaks and irregular releases of gas) and venting (intentional releases), according to the Overseas Development Institute, a UK-based think tank. Together, they account for about 25 per cent of the full life-cycle emissions of natural gas.  

China is projected to see a 5.3 EJ decline in planned coal production in 2023 relative to 2021. “The long-term decline in global coal production is led by China, whose domestic coal production is estimated to decrease steeply between 2030 and 2050 in alignment with the country's 2060 carbon-neutrality goal,” the report read.

China is on track to double its wind and solar energy capacity by 2025 instead of 2030, and India earmarked over $4 billion for clean energy in its national budget.

The report also warned of the risks of relying on technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon dioxide removal. The former deals with capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) at emission sources, such as power stations and then storing it underground, while the latter involves using technologies to remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

Further, around 80 per cent of pilot projects involving these technologies have ended in failure over the past three decades. Even if all the planned global CCS facilities become operational, they can lower less than a per cent of 2022 global CO2 emissions.

Read more: Global climate finance increasing, but scale & pace not enough: New report

Given these uncertainties, the report called for a near-total phase-out of coal production and use by 2040 and a combined reduction in oil and gas production and use by 75 per cent by 2050 from the 2020 levels.

“The potential failure of these measures to develop at scale calls for an even more rapid global phase-out of all fossil fuels,” read the report.

The authors of the report urged nations to phase out all fossil fuels at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai. They stressed the need to establish near- and long-term targets to reduce the use of three fossil fuels. COP 26 and COP 27 focussed only on coal.

“That is why all eyes will be on governments as they convene in Dubai this December to take on the long-overdue work of phasing out fossil fuels fairly and equitably,” Måns Nilsson, executive director at the Stockholm Environment Institute, wrote in the report.

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