The world may be mired in an energy crunch, but the United Nations had a message Wednesday for major producers: Stop delivering so much coal, oil and natural gas.
The 2021 Production Gap Report found that the 15 biggest producers are expected to generate by 2030 more than double the amount of fossil fuels consistent with meeting the Paris agreement’s goal of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The report by the U.N. Environment Programme and research institutes also said that global oil and gas output is expected to increase over the next two decades, with coal declining only slightly, which would widen the “production gap” between fossil-fuel development and the Paris climate benchmark.
“The research is clear: global coal, oil, and gas production must start declining immediately and steeply to be consistent with limiting long-term warming to 1.5°C,” said Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author and scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute.
“However, governments continue to plan for and support levels of fossil fuel production that are vastly in excess of what we can safely burn,” she said.
The release was timed to the U.N.’s COP26 climate summit, which runs Oct. 31-Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland.
But the appeal to slash fossil-fuel production came in stark contrast to soaring world demand for coal and natural gas amid a global energy crisis expected to get worse before it gets better.
China has already implemented emergency power rationing in several provinces and expanded coal production, while Europe has seen energy prices skyrocket as it competes with Asia for limited liquified natural gas supplies and Russian President Vladimir Putin resists increasing exports.
Blame for the crunch has been placed on the post-pandemic surge in demand for goods as well as summer flooding in Europe and China.
But Western Europe has also been faulted for what critics describe as a reckless transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Driving home the point was the summer “wind drought,” which brought North Sea turbines to a standstill and sent energy prices skyrocketing in increasingly wind-dependent Britain.
Steve Milloy, JunkScience.com founder and senior policy fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, said that the “current global energy crisis shows why demand for fossil fuels will not decrease in the foreseeable future.”
“Solar, wind and other green-tech junk aren’t cheaper and don’t work well enough at this point to power growing populations and economies,” he said.
Mr. Milloy, part of former President Trump’s EPA transition team, also said the annual report has become “exceedingly propagandistic in nature.”
“Previous editions contained frank and highlighted assessments of total human emissions and the fact that emissions are increasing with no end in sight,” Mr. Milloy said. “That information has been dropped from this year’s report.”
The U.N. report offered a glimpse at the issues likely to emerge at its annual climate confab, which President Biden is expected to attend.
“The devastating impacts of climate change are here for all to see. There is still time to limit long-term warming to 1.5°C, but this window of opportunity is rapidly closing,” says Inger Andersen, UNEP executive director. “At COP26 and beyond, the world’s governments must step up, taking rapid and immediate steps to close the fossil fuel production gap and ensure a just and equitable transition.”
The report showed that most but not all of the 15 nations surveyed plan to decrease their coal production — India and Russia are slated to increase theirs — while upping oil and natural gas, a finding “dangerously out of sync” with the Paris limits.
Each of the countries has also signed the Paris accord and pledged to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, in some cases announcing net-zero commitments.
“However, few have assessed, at least publicly, whether their projected fossil fuel production is consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said the report. “This focus on emissions alone ignores their roles and responsibilities in producing the predominant source of these emissions.”
The countries named in the report were Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.
Gregory Wrightstone, executive director of the skeptical CO2 Coalition, noted the contrast between the climate pledges and the accelerated fossil-fuel production.
“The divergence between net-zero commitments and the increasing production of fossil fuels is the difference between the fantasy that modern society can thrive without coal, oil and natural gas and the reality that people want — and deserve — to live free of poverty and deprivation,” he said.
The report urged nations and financial institutions to cut investment in fossil-fuel development and intensify their renewable commitment.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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