‘Planet wreckers’: 20 countries led by US to emit 90% carbon dioxide through 2050

5 countries in the global north — the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom — would contribute the majority of emissions through 2050, notes analysis

By Susan Chacko
Published: Wednesday 13 September 2023
Representative photo: iStock

Just 20 countries in the world, led by the United States, would be responsible for nearly 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions through 2050, found a new analysis by research organisation Oil Change International.

The reason for such a massive share is the new oil and gas extraction and fracking wells planned by these countries between 2023 and 2050.

Five countries in the global north — the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom — would contribute the majority of emissions through 2050, it added.

These countries with the greatest economic means to rapidly phase out oil and gas production would contribute to 51 per cent of the planned oil and gas explorations.

In addition to the five countries, the nations in the top 20 ‘planet wreckers’ include Russia, China, Iran, Brazil, UAE, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Guyana, Qatar, Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria, India and Kazakhstan.

In countries like US, Canada and UAE, planned expansion projects would bolster oil and gas extraction to increase by 2030 or beyond. At the same time, new fields and licenses in the United Kingdom and Norway are expected to stall a more rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

The “oil and gas contained in these new projects would cause 173 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2 of cumulative pollution between 2023 and 2050 if fully extracted and burned,” the report flagged.

If these 20 countries heed the call from United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to end new licensing and new extraction, they could help prevent 173 Gt of further CO2 pollution.

If the 20 countries allow this scale of new oil and gas extraction, it could become impossible to hold global temperature rise to the 1.5° Celsius limit, the report warned.

The report called US the ‘planet wrecker in chief ‘as it accounted for more than a third of planned global oil and gas expansion through 2050, followed by Canada and Russia.

UAE is also set to be one of the largest oil and gas production expanders despite pledging to use its COP28 presidency to “keep 1.5°C alive.”

The global oil and gas fields and coal mines already in operation have the potential to push the world well beyond safe climate limits by locking in 140 per cent more carbon pollution than the allowed limit of 1.5°C. 

If these countries proceed with their new extraction plans, carbon pollution would be 190 per cent over the 1.5°C threshold, risking locking in more than a dangerous 2°C of warming.

Nearly 60 per cent of the fossil fuels in existing fields and mines must stay in the ground to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the report added.

To compensate for extraction from new fields and licenses, more than three-quarters of the oil, gas, and coal within already active extraction sites need to stay in the ground, according to the report.

The global upstream investments in oil and gas exploration, extraction and production are on course to reach their highest levels since 2015. The investments will grow 11 per cent year-on-year to $528 billion in 2023, warned the International Energy Agency in its forecast ‘Oil 2023’.

Another report by Climate Action Tracker released at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June 2023 noted that the world’s largest fossil fuel-producing countries have neither committed to end oil and gas production nor set a global target for renewable energy.

Likewise, the first global stocktake technical synthesis report released by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on September 8, 2023, warned that the world is “not on track” to meet the long-term goal of limiting global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius.

Moreover, in his June 15, 2023 press conference, Guterres put forward an Acceleration Agenda listing measures to help cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. These include limiting subsidies and licenses to new coal companies.

He urged phasing out of coal by 2030 in countries part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and elsewhere in 2040. Guterres also pitched for ending all international coal funding — both public and private.

The agenda targets to stop the expansion of existing oil and gas reserves and support the just transition of the impacted developing countries. It also focuses on ensuring net zero electricity generation by 2035 in developed countries and everywhere in 2040.

Guterres also called for shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, just energy transition and progressive global phase-out of existing oil and gas production consistent with global net zero emissions by 2050.

The report comes ahead of the UN Climate Ambition Summit, to be held in New York on September 20, 2023. The summit would accelerate action by governments, businesses, finance, local authorities and civil society.

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