A study published this week in the journal Nature says that a third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves would need to remain in the ground for the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum two degrees Celsius global average temperature rise.
The study, compiled by University College, London, says that the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than can be burnt for the world to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
The authors draw attention to the need for governments to turn promises into reality as they work towards the new global climate change agreement in Paris, to be concluded at the end of this year.
Our results show that policy makers instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit.
The report details the type and geographical distribution of fossil fuels that must remain in the ground to keep the average temperature rise to within the agreed limit. The results are illustrated in this infographic, compiled by the Guardian newspaper:
Also this week, the World Bank warned of the impacts of low oil prices and called on governments to cut oil subsidies in order to make clean sources of energy more competitive.
In its Global Economic Prospects for 2015 publication, released on Wednesday, the World Bank authors wrote:
If sustained over the medium-term, low oil prices may encourage a move towards production which is more intensive in fossil fuels or energy more generally (…) This runs counter to broader environmental goals in many countries.
World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu said governments should use this drop in prices to offset the medium-term incentives for increased oil consumption by changing tax policies on energy use.
With oil likely to remain cheap for some time, oil-importing countries should lower or even eliminate fuel subsidies and rebuild the fiscal space needed to carry out future stimulus efforts,
Last year, the latest scientific report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed the crucial role of redirecting investments to achieve the 2 degrees goal, stating that “substantial reductions in emissions would require large changes in investment patterns.”
At the time, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called upon companies to reduce their investment in fossil fuels, or to divest completely. He said:
I have been urging companies like pension funds or insurance companies to reduce their investments in coal and a fossil-fuel based economy to move to renewable sources of energy.
In his call, Ban Ki-moon joined a growing list of high-level figures advocating for divestment from fossil fuels including Archbischop Desmond Tutu, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.