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Viewpoint: No change in fossil fuel production plans

Viewpoint: No change in fossil fuel production plans


By Jeremy Williams

There’s a giant cognitive dissonance at the heart of global climate politics. Almost every country now agrees that it has work to do to prevent climate disaster. The age of scepticism is over and every major economy has set carbon targets. At the same time, those governments all want to maximise fossil fuel production.

According to the recent Production Gap report, the total planned production of fossil fuels between now and 2050 is twice the limit set to keep warming to 1.5 degrees C.


In the graph above, the purple line at the bottom is what needs to happen to fossil fuel production to hold warming at 1.5C. The dotted gold line is what governments have so far pledged – still inadequate. The solid gold line is what current policies might actually deliver – nowhere near what’s been promised, which is in turn not enough. And then if we add planned production of new oil, coal and gas, we get the red line at the top – and runaway climate catastrophe.

Of the 20 countries profiled in the report, none of them have promised to phase out fossil fuel production. This is utterly contradictory, but we can see some of the elaborate justifications for it. In the UK it’s the bizarre game of Twister that the Conservatives have been playing over ‘net zero oil production’, insisting that good British oil and gas is lower carbon than the dirty Russian oil and gas that we don’t actually import any more. In the UAE it’s a massive land grab for carbon credits, with vast tranches of several African states signed over to Dubai’s Blue Carbon project – just pay poorer countries to deal with the UAE’s emissions. Everywhere it’s the promise of jobs and growth and hang the consequences.

In his book No More Fossils, Dominic Boyer writes that “petro-state decomposition must be our primary political objective.” That’s looking increasingly obvious. While climate negotiations remain fixated on emissions, the main cause of those emissions has been strategically overlooked. That has to become the main focus of climate action in future – winding down fossil fuel production in a just transition, teasing apart the power structures and influence of the fossil industry.

If you’re wondering how on earth we get past fossil fuels, and the kinds of realistic policies that might move us in that direction, I recommend Holly Jean Buck’s book Ending Fossil Fuels. “A planned ending to fossil fuels is becoming more normal every day,” she writes. “It just needs a bit more encouragement.”

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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