Most coal, oil, and fossil methane gas should remain unextracted to keep 1.5°C carbon budget: Study

The study also estimated that oil and gas production must decline globally by 3% each year until 2050 in order to meet Paris Agreement goals 

Almost 60% of oil and fossil methane gas, and 90% of coal must remain unextracted to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, according to a new study. The undergrounding of fossil fuels as suggested by the study has a 50% chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times.

The study titled ‘Unextractable fossil fuels in a 1.5 °C world’ was conducted by researchers from University College, London. It used a global energy systems model to assess the amount of fossil fuels that would need to be left in the ground to meet the 1.5°C carbon budget. The researchers said the scenarios in the study paint a “bleak picture” for the global fossil fuel industry and it is probably an underestimate of what is required due to which, “production would need to be curtailed even faster.” 

Region-wise unextractable estimates

According to the study, for some of the largest reserves holders like the Middle East, Russia, and other former Soviet States, the unextractable estimates are close to or marginally above the global average.

In the Middle East, 100% of coal and around 64% of oil and gas reserves must remain unextracted to keep the temperature within 1.5°C by 2050, it said.

With regard to India and China, the unextractable estimates for coal, oil, and fossil methane gas are 76%, 47%, and 35% respectively.

The study noted that unextractable estimates for coal show less regional variation and they are lowest in those regions that will utilise most coal in the next 30 years, notably India, China, and other parts of Asia.

Decline in oil and gas production required globally by 2050 

Since many operational and planned projects that use fossil fuels are not conducive to meet internationally agreed climate targets, the study estimated that oil and gas production must decline globally by 3% each year until 2050 to meet the goal. It stated that this may cause many regions to face peak production now or during the next decade.

The study suggested that country producers, fossil fuel energy companies, and their investors should seriously reassess their production outlooks. For regions that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels (like the Middle East) for fiscal revenue, the analysis warned of huge transition risk unless economies diversify rapidly.

A similar study was also conducted by University College London scientists in 2015, which looked at how much countries would have to limit fossil fuel emissions to hold warming to 2°C. The study found that a third of oil reserves, half of the gas reserves, and 80% of coal reserves would need to stay in the ground.

However, the current study estimates reveal that a large increase in unextractable fossil fuel reserves is required, particularly for oil for which an additional 25% of reserves have to stay in the ground compared with the 2015 estimates.