Planned fossil fuel production is double global climate targets, report says

COP28 meeting in Dubai must address the issue, UN Sec-Gen says.

If governments proceed to increase their oil, gas, and coal production as planned, the resulting emissions will push global warming beyond the Paris Agreement goal of a maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, a new U.N.-led multi-agency report said. The impending clash over the future of fossil fuels will take center stage when global leaders convene at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai later this month.

The plan by fossil fuel-producing nations to expand coal, oil, and gas would twice overshoot the planet’s carbon budget and exceed by more than one-third the Paris Agreement goal, leading to a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario, said the “2023 Production Gap Report” led by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and Stockholm Environment Institute.

The report, released on Wednesday, is “a startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and the planet,” it said.
The report was prepared by more than 80 researchers from over 30 countries and focuses on 20 major fossil-fuel-producing countries, which account for 82% of production and 73% of consumption of the world’s fossil fuel supply. Thanks mainly to India, the report said existing plans would lead to 460% more coal production, while gas and oil production would increase by 83% and 29%, respectively, more than global demand in 2030. China, the world’s largest emitter that currently generates over half of the global coal supply, hit a record domestic production of 4.5 billion metric tons in 2022, the report said, adding that production is projected to peak this decade.

The report also said that the United States, the world’s leading oil and gas producer and second-largest emitter, has boosted its production since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Seventeen of the 20 countries aim for net zero through emission-cutting initiatives. Yet, they continue to support and plan to expand fossil fuel production, contradicting their climate commitment, the report said.

The planned fossil-fuel output and climate goals have remained essentially unchanged since 2019, the first year the annual report was published, said Ploy Pattanun Achakulwisut, a lead author and scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, which also produced the report.

“The disconnect between planned fossil fuel production and the levels implied by governments climate policies and pledges are also apparent across all three fossil fuels,” she said during a press briefing.

Global carbon dioxide emissions — almost 90% of which come from fossil fuels — rose to record highs in 2021–2022. The production report comes as 2023 is “virtually certain” to be the warmest on record, driven by carbon emissions and an El Niño weather event. October was the fifth month in a row of record-breaking warmth, according to the European Union-related Copernicus Climate Change Service.

COP28 must address the issue
The report “exposes the glaring hypocrisy at the heart of global climate action,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, comprising over 1,300 environmental NGOs across 130 countries. “Countries that present themselves as climate champions on the global stage are betraying the spirit of the Paris Agreement by intensifying the climate crisis through increased production of coal, oil, and gas.”

Wednesday’s fossil fuel report said countries must phase out coal by 2040 and cut oil and gas use by three-quarters of 2020 levels by 2050 as a minimum target. Guterres said climate catastrophe cannot be solved “without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence.” “COP28 must send a clear signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas — that its end is inevitable,” he added.

The upcoming Dubai climate summit on Nov. 30 will be a battleground over phasing out fossil fuels versus the more conservative “phasedown of unabated coal power,” as agreed at COP26 in Glasgow two years ago, the first time fossil fuels had been explicitly mentioned in the climate meeting.

“Unabated” refers to using coal power without implementing carbon capture technology, leading to direct emissions contributing to global warming.

“Countries must phase out coal – by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 elsewhere. And the G20 must take the lead in ending licensing and funding for new oil and gas,” said Guterres.

“People talk about a transition, but it’s not a transition if you’re expanding the problem … The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis, and the proliferation of fossil fuel infrastructure is one of the greatest safety risks of the 21st century,” said Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, a global campaign to stop coal, oil, and gas exploration and expansion and phase-out existing production.