Profiling 20 major fossil fuel producer countries, the research highlights how the persistence of the global production gap and rising carbon emissions puts a well-managed and equitable energy transition at risk
The world is on track to produce 110% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 69% more than consistent with 2°C. This is the finding of a new analysis called ‘The Production Gap report’ by a group of energy think-tanks and modellers, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which warns of the widening carbon emissions gap.
In light of the Paris Agreement, the Production Gap report has reviewed global fossil fuel production for 20 major fossil-fuel-producing countries. The report found that most of these governments continue to provide significant policy and financial support for fossil fuel production.
Modelled after UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap Report, this report showed that the GHG emissions gap can’t be tackled without dealing with the oversupply of fossil fuels. The countries covered in the analysis are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United States, and United Kingdom.
Global carbon dioxide emissions — almost 90% of which come from fossil fuels — rose to record highs in 2021–2022. Across the globe, deadly heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods are costing lives and livelihoods, making clear that human-induced climate change is here.
This comes despite 151 national governments having pledged to achieve net-zero GHG emissions and the latest forecasts, which suggest global coal, oil, and gas demand will peak this decade, even without new policies. When combined, government plans would lead to an increase in global coal production until 2030, and in global oil and gas production until at least 2050, creating an ever-widening fossil fuel production gap over time.
Looking at India’s Carbon Emissions Trajectory
The report said that the near term increase in coal production is led by India followed by the Russian Federation and they are planning significant increases in coal production through 2030.
India’s updated NDC, submitted in August 2022, pledged a reduction in “the GHG emissions intensity of its GDP” of 45% by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and an increase in the share of non-fossil power capacity to 50% by 2030. In March 2022, the Ministry of Coal announced plans to increase India’s overall coal production to 1 billion tonnes in fiscal year 2023–2024, and production by state-owned Coal India Limited (CIL) alone to 1 billion tonnes the following year.
Looking at the government’s support for domestic fossil fuel production, the report found that producer subsidies through direct budgetary transfers and tax breaks were valued at ₹5.7 billion or $77 million in 2021. The government has also set up rolling electronic auctions of mining blocks to increase domestic coal production. In 2021, India streamlined the process for providing clearances and approvals for coal mines and is encouraging foreign direct investment in the oil and gas sector. India seeks self-reliance and views the coal industry as currently being of paramount importance for income and employment generation.
India meets about one-fifth of its coal demand with imports, exposing the country to price volatility on the international market and loss of foreign exchange reserves. Looking at government support for international fossil fuel production, the report found that ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), a subsidiary of India’s national oil company, has stakes in 33 oil and gas projects in 15 countries. OVL expects to increase investments in its overseas assets from ₹30 billion ($410 million) in 2023 to ₹50 billion ($680 million) by 2024, the report said.
“India is right to call out the hypocrisy of the developed world by insisting on a comprehensive fossil fuel phase out that includes oil and gas. But at the same time, India cannot keep using the West’s hypocrisy to hide its own abject failure to rein in the growth of coal. Renewable energy is the cheapest new source of electricity in India, and the cost of battery and other storage is also falling fast. Climate Risk Horizons’ analysis has shown in numerous states across the country that scrapping plans for new coal and even retiring some expensive coal plants while doubling down on renewables will lead to immense savings for the power system as a whole, benefitting state governments and consumers. There is no economic or financial rationale for the construction of new coal power plants in India – renewable energy is more than able to meet increased demand if the right policies are enacted. The public investment that is meant to go to new coal would be more productive if spent on India’s underfunded energy transition,” said Ashish Fernandes, CEO, Climate Risk Horizons.
While India has made significant investments and set ambitious targets for renewable energy, the report noted, no government policies or discourses to support a managed wind-down of fossil fuel production were identified.
Key findings and the way forward amid rising emissions from fossil fuels
While 17 of the 20 countries featured have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions — and many have launched initiatives to cut carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel production activities — none have committed to reduce coal, oil, and gas production in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C.
Given risks and uncertainties of carbon capture and storage and carbon dioxide removal, the report said that countries should aim for a near total phase-out of coal production and use by 2040, and a combined reduction in oil and gas production and use by three-quarters by 2050 from 2020 levels, at a minimum.
“We find that many governments are promoting fossil gas as an essential ‘transition’ fuel but with no apparent plans to transition away from it later,” said Ploy Achakulwisut, a lead author on the report and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) scientist. “But science says we must start reducing global coal, oil, and gas production and use now — along with scaling up clean energy, reducing methane emissions from all sources, and other climate actions — to keep the 1.5°C goal alive.”
The report recommended that governments with greater capacity to transition away from fossil fuels should aim for more ambitious reductions and help support the transition processes in countries with limited resources. “COP28 could be the pivotal moment where governments finally commit to the phase-out of all fossil fuels and acknowledge the role producers have to play in facilitating a managed and equitable transition,” said Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and SEI US centre director. “Governments with the greatest capacities to transition away from fossil fuel production bear the greatest responsibility to do so while providing finance and support to help other countries do the same.”