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Global fossil fuel production will soon thwart Paris Agreement climate targets, report warns

WATCH: For the first time, researchers have measured the gap between the world's climate goals and the projections for fossil fuel production. Jeff Semple explains.

The world’s top fossil fuel-producing countries are significantly expanding production of oil, natural gas and coal, undermining efforts to reach their climate targets, according to an analysis conducted by several think tanks and the United Nations Environment Programme.

For the first time, the report reviewed specific plans from 10 countries, including Canada, China and the United States, and estimated that global fossil fuel production by 2030 would be 120 per cent over Paris Agreement targets.

“Countries are planning on over twice the production that would be consistent with meeting Paris climate goals,” said Michael Lazarus with Stockholm Environment Institute and the report’s lead author.

“If countries are saying on the one hand that they plan to reduce emissions and on the other hand that they plan to increase production, that creates not only a contradiction, but it also undermines the ability to reach climate goals.”

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Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, world leaders committed to a long-term goal of limiting the average temperature increase to within 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But by 2030, global planned production would lead to 39 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, 53 per cent higher than what is needed to reduce temperature rises to 2 C and 21 gigatonnes — or 120 per cent, more than is needed for 1.5 C.

Scientists have warned that even a 2 C increase will expose hundreds of millions of people to higher risks of extreme heatwaves, drought, floods and poverty.

U.N. chief says world is ‘not on track’ to achieve Paris Agreement objectives
U.N. chief says world is ‘not on track’ to achieve Paris Agreement objectives

In Canada, the government has promised to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. At the same time, the report notes, oil production is projected to increase 60 per cent from 2017-2040. Natural gas production is also on track to increase 34 per cent during that period.

“Canada is basically projected to produce a lot of more fossil fuels and it’s hard to see how we can meet emissions reduction targets if we do that,” said Philip Gass, Senior Policy Analyst with the International Institute for Sustainable Development and one of the Canadian authors of the report.

“Nobody sees a realistic way to meet these targets unless we make fundamental changes to the way we deal with energy.”

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The fossil fuel industry will generate about 8 per cent of Canada’s GDP and support around a million jobs in 2020, according to an analysis by Clean Energy Canada at Simon Fraser University. In contrast, the clean energy industry is expected to employ 400,000 people next year.

The study’s authors argue that government money spent supporting the fossil fuel sector, such as federal subsidies worth around $1.6 billion per year, should be reinvested in the clean energy industry.

Need to shape climate change policy in a way that addresses ‘legitimate economic concerns’ of Alberta, Saskatchewan: Wilkinson
Need to shape climate change policy in a way that addresses ‘legitimate economic concerns’ of Alberta, Saskatchewan: Wilkinson

“It’s not easy, but that’s why you have to invest in the transition process in a major way,” Lazarus told Global News. “We need to pay attention to the workers and the communities affected.

“These transitions can happen. There is time to phase this down. It just needs to start now. Don’t make the problem worse by expanding production [of fossil fuels].”

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The Trudeau government has touted its federal carbon tax as the centrepiece of its climate strategy. The report found Canada has also successfully reduced its reliance on coal power.

“We often hear in Canada that it’s possible for us to meet our climate goals while continuing to expand oil and gas production,“ says Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network.

“And I think this report makes it clear that oil and gas production will stand in the way of us being successful in meeting our climate goals,”

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