New research looks at the global threat to protected areas due to fossil fuel extraction, which could lead to massive emissions
A recent analysis mapped fossil fuels underneath the world’s protected areas and quantified the threat from fossil fuel extraction to legally protected areas worldwide. The analysis showed that over 47 Gigatonnes of CO2 could be released by extracting and burning fossil fuels from within protected areas, which is more than the yearly emissions of the entire world combined.
The Leave it in the Ground Initiative (LINGO), in collaboration with Oil Change International, conducted the research. The dataset showed over 600 companies profiting from fossil fuel extraction inside protected areas. The results are also accessible on an interactive online map here .
According to the analysis, over 2,900 ongoing or planned fossil fuel activities in protected areas in 91 countries were identified, including in the globally significant Marawah Biosphere Reserve in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE oil company ADNOC, which is led by the COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, is planning a mega fossil gas extraction project at the reserve.
While global biodiversity and climate targets should make non-extraction in protected areas the obvious choice, the reality is different. The report mentioned how protected areas are getting downgraded, downsized or even de-gazetted. For instance, the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was deleted from the world heritage list for the country to pursue oil & gas drilling in the area and the Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo was downgraded to allow oil exploration.
“Protected areas should benefit from unconditional bans on extractive activities,” said Kjell Kühne, director of LINGO. “With the 1.5°C threshold around the corner, we should be seeing a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel activities. Instead, concessions to drill and mine inside protected areas are being handed out to fossil fuel companies. Pledging to keep that carbon in the ground could be a good way for governments to step up climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection at the same time.”
Protected areas are also threatened by fossil fuel activities outside of their boundaries, such as oil spills and mining disasters with polluting consequences that travel many kilometres, added the report.
Protected areas are an important safety mechanism during the climate emergency as they conserve ecosystems, which provide essential services for humans and other species.