For a livable future, 60% of oil and gas must remain underground


In order to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, in addition to supporting the deployment of clean energy, countries may also need to set strict limits on the extraction of fossil fuels.This is one of the new key points Learn The energy and climate modelers at University College London published it in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Researchers are beginning to estimate how much fossil fuel reserves the world must keep in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the catastrophic effects of climate change as the target specified in the Paris Agreement. They found that in order to have a 50% chance of achieving this goal, 58% of known oil reserves, 59% of natural gas reserves, and 89% of coal reserves cannot be exploited. This means that by 2050, global oil and gas production must fall by an average of 3% per year.

“I think people are increasingly aware of the need to take policy measures and actions against production itself to achieve the kind of decline we are considering here,” said Steve Pye, one of the authors of the study. Said at the press conference. Call on Tuesday.

The author emphasized when introducing to reporters that these figures may underestimate the scale and speed required to reduce fossil fuel production for two reasons. The first is related to the carbon budget—the amount of carbon that can be emitted before the earth warms by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Due to the uncertainty in the climate model, there is no universally agreed carbon budget, but a range of scientists estimate that this will give us a better or worse chance of achieving temperature targets. This paper uses a carbon budget of 580 billion metric tons, and it is estimated that there is only a 50% chance of stabilizing the global climate at 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial temperature.

James Price, the co-author of the study, said at a press conference: “If we want a higher chance of staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius, then of course we must retain more carbon underground.”

Second, the model used by the author to meet fossil fuel quotas actually allows the world to emit more Over 580 billion metric tons of carbon, the temperature temporarily rose to 1.8 degrees Celsius, and then fell back to 1.5 degrees Celsius at the end of the century. In this case, fossil fuels will not disappear completely-oil and natural gas will still be used for chemical feedstock and aviation after 2050. “Negative emission technology” makes it possible to stabilize the climate at 1.5 degrees Celsius, and “negative emission technology” removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and compensates for emission overshoot.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about whether these largely unproven technologies can be deployed quickly at the required scale, and their sustainability,” Price continued.

Damon Matthews, a climate scientist at Concordia University, emphasized that this is an important assumption, ignoring issues related to sustainability. The model relies heavily on a form of negative emissions that involves burning plants to obtain energy and capture their emissions, also known as carbon capture bioenergy. “Many factors that may limit its technical feasibility as a mitigation are not necessarily included in the model, including competition with food, competition with ecosystems, the need to achieve biodiversity goals, and land rights issues related to indigenous land ownership, Matthews told Grist. If the authors do not consider the possibility of large-scale expansion of bioenergy through carbon capture, their estimates of fossil fuel reserves that must remain underground will increase.

This type of modeling requires a lot of assumptions about the carbon budget, the technologies available, and their costs. Nevertheless, Matthews said that changing the hypothesis in the study will not change its basic conclusion: If we are to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, more than half of the world’s fossil fuel reserves cannot be tapped.

The paper delved into regional differences and found that some areas need a greater decline and a greater proportion of undeveloped reserves. For example, oil extraction in Canada and Central and South America are costly and carbon-intensive, and 83% and 73% of their oil reserves must be left underground, respectively, while the United States only needs to keep 31% of its oil reserves undeveloped.

The non-exploitable fossil fuel reserves in 2050 and 2100 under the 1.5 °C scenario by region.
Wellsby, D. et al. 1.5C Fossil fuel that cannot be extracted in the world. Nature (2021)

The future of natural gas is a bit complicated. The authors found that in more developed regions such as the United States, natural gas production must peak immediately, where natural gas production must fall by 8% annually to keep temperature targets within reach. At the same time, in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia, natural gas production may increase in the 2030s to help these economies achieve growth before they peak.

These results stem from the fact that the model prioritizes finding the most cost-effective global decarbonization path. This is part of the reason why it discovered that the use of fossil fuels must indeed be reduced-we cannot simply use carbon capture technology to continue burning unlimited amounts of coal and natural gas, because it is expected to be more expensive than switching to cleaner energy sources.

But it also means that the result is based on an idealized world without politics.For example, in the real world, Canada is subsidizing oil production, which is Expected to increase by 20% by 2040The industry is the main source of employment and income for the local economy. The authors admitted at the press conference that their model cannot take policy into account. “If the government insists on supporting the oil sands industry, our model results show that it is meaningless from a techno-economic and climate perspective,” lead author Dan Wellsby told reporters on the study.

The world is still far away in achieving production cuts consistent with this analysis. Pye said that investors need to realize that further investment in fossil fuel mining is not only inconsistent with the Paris Agreement, but also as countries pay more and more attention to climate change and formulate policies to reduce demand, the risks will increase. He also pointed out that more international cooperation is needed to manage the decline in fossil fuels, including supporting countries whose economies are heavily dependent on the industry.

There are signs that the “stick to the end” movement has begun to permeate policy from the realm of activists. 13 cities and local governments signed the new Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Support the phasing out of fossil fuels. The event also seeks to create a new global fossil fuel reserve registry to increase the transparency of the planned extraction of oil and gas companies. In August, Denmark and Costa Rica announced the establishment of Beyond the oil and gas alliance, Which will encourage countries to impose controls on the decline in fossil fuel production.

Pai said at a press conference: “Although the participants are relatively small, this movement may gain momentum, and large participants may join in the future.”


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