Burning the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves would release 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions – seven times the remaining carbon budget to limit global warming to 1.5C – according to the first public inventory of hydrocarbons released on Monday.
Human activity since the Industrial Revolution, fueled largely by coal, oil and gas, has resulted in warming of nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius and brought with it increasingly severe droughts, floods and storms, exacerbated by rising sea levels .
The United Nations estimates that the Earth’s remaining carbon budget — how much more pollution we can add to the atmosphere before missing the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature target — is about 360 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent, or current nine-year emissions levels .
The United Nations annual output gap assessment last year found that governments plan to burn more than twice as much fossil fuel by 2030 as would be consistent with a 1.5C world.
So far, however, there has been no comprehensive global inventory of countries’ remaining reserves.
The Global Fossil Fuel Inventory aims to provide greater clarity on oil, gas and coal reserves to fill knowledge gaps about global supplies and help policymakers better manage their exits.
Covering more than 50,000 fields in 89 countries, it found that some countries themselves held reserves with enough carbon to blow the world’s entire carbon budget.
For example, US coal reserves bind 520 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. China, Russia and Australia all have enough reserves to miss 1.5C, it noted.
All in all, the remaining fossil fuel reserves contain seven times the emissions of the 1.5°C carbon budget.
“We have very little time to address the remaining carbon budget,” said Rebecca Byrnes, deputy director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, who helped create the register.
“Until we measure what’s being produced, it’s incredibly difficult to measure or regulate that production,” she told AFP.
– Transparency, accountability –
The register contains emission data for individual oil, gas or target projects.
Of the 50,000 fields included, the top source of emissions is the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia, which emits about 525 million tons of carbon emissions each year.
According to the database, the 12 most polluting locations were all in the Gulf or in Russia.
Byrnes said the inventory could help exert investor pressure in countries with large hydrocarbon reserves, but saw little prospect of popular pressure to steer away from fossil fuels.
“This just goes to show that this is a global challenge and many countries that are major producers but are not as democratic as, for example, the US – that’s where transparency comes in,” she told AFP.
“We have no illusions that the registry will result in some sort of massive fossil fuel governance regime overnight. But it sheds light on where fossil fuel production is happening so investors and other stakeholders can hold their governments accountable.”
The inventory also highlighted wide variations in the price of carbon between countries, with taxes on emissions fetching almost $100 per tonne in Iraq but just $5 per tonne in the UK.
Simon Kofe, Tuvalu’s foreign minister, said the database could “help effectively end coal, oil and gas exploration”.
“It will help governments, companies and investors make decisions to adapt their fossil fuel production to the 1.5°C temperature limit, concretely preventing the sinking of our island homes and every country in our global community.”