Rich countries have 12 years to stop fossil fuel extraction
Time is rapidly running out for countries to phase out fossil fuel extraction and avoid some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, a new report has found. Like seriously quickly.
Researchers from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research have found that rich countries have until 2034 to shut down all oil and gas production. The results also show that waiting for carbon dioxide removal technology is a dangerous game.
Even if rich countries pull themselves together over the next 12 years, the analysis finds that this gives the world about a 50% chance of avoiding warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, a key climate threshold. Ending fossil fuel extraction in rich countries within the next seven years gives us a 67% chance of having a suitably habitable climate. The report, which has not been peer-reviewed, comes a year after an International Energy Agency report found exploration for new fossil fuels must end [checks notes] This year.
This is just the latest analysis that should – but probably won’t, if history is any guide – ignite a crackling fire under the buttocks of world leaders who have balked at implementing policies to actually reduce carbon emissions and ending the use of fossil fuels. This is especially true for rich countries, which have outsized influence in international climate negotiations and are historically the biggest carbon polluters.
The report also throws cold water on the fact that removing carbon dioxide is enough to save us. CDR options take many forms, including nature-based solutions like reforestation and negative emissions technologies that extract carbon directly from the air. But neither is a suitable substitute for “deep and immediate reductions in the production of all fossil fuels,” according to the report.
The authors are explicit on this point, stating that “this report avoids substituting deep emissions reductions today for the CDR and [carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS] tomorrow.” There is no room to open new fossil fuel production facilities (as the United States likely will, given the number of oil and gas leases that have been purchased but remain unused).
Even so, the research finds that CDR has played an increasingly important role in countries’ climate plans as the weather has gotten shorter and emissions have continued to rise. But negative emissions technologies are largely speculative at this point. As the authors elegantly put it, “negative emissions technology programs remain small pilot projects. Their deployment on a planetary scale is still difficult to imagine.
The authors are by no means saying that these technologies will have no role in mitigating global warming; in fact, they write that there is reason for research and development on the subject, and even large-scale testing and deployment, assuming “designs meet rigorous ecological and social sustainability criteria” . Most climate modeling scenarios include some form of CDR to keep the planet in a relatively decent state.
But ultimately, they find it’s simply too early to rely on negative emissions technologies, however much we wish they could serve as a silver bullet. For now, there is simply no substitute for – say it with me – phasing out fossil fuel extraction, and fast.