UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels

A REPORT released overnight by the UN Environment Programme and other analysis groups say the world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by 6% per year between 2020 and 2030 to keep global heating at 1.5C.
UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels UN warns of "suicidal" expansion of fossil fuels

New report urges countries cut coal, oil and gas stimulus

Mark Tilly

Journalist

Mark Tilly

‘The Production Gap'  report, notes countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2% which by 2030 would result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5C target. 

It also noted that to date, governments have committed far more COVID-19 stimulus spending to coal, oil and gas than to clean energy, and that policymakers need to reverse this trend to meet climate goals. 

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the report shows "without a doubt that the production and use of coal, oil and gas needs to decrease quickly if we are to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change". 

"This is vital to ensure both a climate-safe future and strong, sustainable economies for all countries," he said. 

The report warns that government measures will shape climate policy, and their recovery stimulus response could lock in severe climate disruption if they chose to subsidise coal, oil and gas - or they could set the stage for a managed wind-down of fossil fuels as part of a "build back better" effort. 

 "Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future," UN Environment Programme executive director Inger Anderson said. 

The report notes several countries are now forecasting major growth in oil and gas production - for the 2020-2030 period, Mexico foresees a 50% growth while Brazil and the United Arab Emirates each plan for a 70% increase. 

The report is released to coincide with the G20 meeting currently being held in Saudi Arabia, with it noting that as of November, G20 governments had committed US$233 billion to activities that support fossil fuel production and consumption, including car manufacturers and airlines, compared to US$146 billion to renewable energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon alternatives. 

It said while some of this funding was directed towards environmentally beneficial activities, the vast majority lacked any social, economic, or environmental conditions.

 Source: Production Gap 2020

The Morrison government has been pushing its rhetoric of a so-called gas-fired recovery, committing around A$50 million to unlocking new, remote gas basins, such as the Beetaloo in the Northern Territory.

The report uses the Queensland state government's decision to freeze fees and charges for coal and gas exploration as part of its budget, as an example of unconditional fossil-fuel support.

However it is not completely scathing of Australia, noting it is among several countries offering support to technologies that could play key roles in a low-carbon future, including renewable energy, electric vehicles and hydrogen.

It also highlighted the state government announcements investing in renewable energy zones with the goal of developing jobs and innovation in clean energy, as an example of actions that could support a managed wind-down of fossil fuel production. 

It estimates the US has given around US$100 billion in government funding to energy stimulus in its recovery packages, however around three-quarters of that has been given unconditionally to fossil fuels. In contrast, Germany has given around US$60 billion, the bulk of which is given to clean energy. 

In a speech at New York's Columbia University overnight Guterres said addressing climate change must be the top priority for everyone, everywhere. 

"Humanity is waging war on nature," he said.

"This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back - and it is already doing so with growing force and fury."