A banner outside the White House reads, "Stop the Willow oil project."

Students and community members demand President Joe Biden stop the Willow project by unfurling a banner on the Ellipse outside the White House on December 02, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for This is Zero Hour)

Expansion Plans of Top Fossil Fuel-Producing Nations Throw 'Humanity's Future Into Question': UN Report

"We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said.

Twenty petrostates responsible for 84% of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021 plan to produce about 110% more oil, gas, and coal through 2030 than is compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, a United Nations-led report has found.

The 2023 "Production Gap" Report was published Wednesday by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Climate Analytics, E3G, International Institute for Sustainable Development, and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). It found that, if the plans of governments including the U.S., China, and the United Arab Emirates move ahead, coal production would increase until 2030 and oil and gas until at least 2050.

"Governments' plans to expand fossil fuel production are undermining the energy transition needed to achieve net-zero emissions, throwing humanity's future into question," UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement. "Powering economies with clean and efficient energy is the only way to end energy poverty and bring down emissions at the same time."

The report noted that 17 of the 20 countries it profiled have promised to reach net-zero emissions, but none of them have promised to phase out fossil fuels in keeping with the 1.5°C goal. The production plans outlined in the report contradict the nations' climate mitigation plans and pledges made as of September 2022 and would see coal production increase by 460% more than is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, gas by 82% more, and oil by 29% more.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the report a "startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness."

"Governments are literally doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and planet," Guterres said. "We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence."

"The report confirms that the failure by oil and gas producing countries to rein in their production is making climate and economic catastrophe more likely everyday."

The findings come amid what is likely to be the hottest year on record and follow a summer of climate-charged extreme weather events, from historic heatwaves to massive wildfires to deadly floods.

"Fossil fuel emissions are already causing climate chaos which is devastating lives and livelihoods, and we're on course for far worse," Guterres continued. "Leaders must act now to save humanity from the worst impacts of climate chaos, and profit from the extraordinary benefits of renewable energy. That means ending our fossil fuel addiction by shrinking supply, driving down demand, and accelerating the renewables revolution, as part of a just transition."

On a country-by-country level, the nations with the most emissions-intensive plans were India from coal, Saudi Arabia from oil, and Russia from oil, gas, and coal, The Guardian reported. The U.S. had plans to expand its oil production the second most after Saudi Arabia and its gas production the fifth most. The UAE, which is hosting the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP28, had the seventh largest plan to expand its oil production. The upcoming talks are already controversial because their president, Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, is also the head of the UAE's state oil company.

"Despite their climate promises, governments plan on ploughing yet more money into a dirty, dying industry, while opportunities abound in a flourishing clean energy sector," Neil Grant, a climate and energy analyst with Climate Analytics, said in response to the report. "On top of economic insanity, it is a climate disaster of our own making."

The report builds on findings from Oil Change International in September that five Global North countries including the U.S. would drive more than 50% of new oil and gas field development through 2050, with the U.S. behind more than a third of the plans.

"The report confirms that the failure by oil and gas producing countries to rein in their production is making climate and economic catastrophe more likely everyday," Oil Change International's global policy manager Romain Ioualalen said in a statement. "It is a stark reminder that we need an immediate halt to all new oil and gas projects, and for governments around the world to agree to a rapid and equitable phase out of all fossil fuels at this year's U.N. climate talks in Dubai."

Cassidy DiPaola, the campaign manager for Fossil Free Media, noted that the report came on the heels of several contentious decisions by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to approve major fossil fuel projects, as well as the news that he would not be attending the U.N. talks.

"President Biden's administration has spent 2023 approving massive fossil fuel projects like Willow and the Mountain Valley Pipeline, even as he trumpets climate leadership," DiPaola said in a statement. "His absence from COP28 further calls this leadership into question. How can we take these climate commitments seriously when major emitters like the U.S continue expanding fossil fuel production and infrastructure?"

The U.N. report authors criticized in particular the idea that gas can act as a so-called bridge fuel away from oil and coal.

"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," lead report author and SEI scientist Ploy Achakulwisut said in a statement. "But science says we must start reducing global coal, oil, and gas production and use now."

The authors called on the top fossil fuel producing nations to shift course and plan to stop using and producing coal by 2040 and cut oil and gas use and production by at least 75% of 2020 levels by 2050.

"COP28 could be the pivotal moment where governments finally commit to the phaseout of all fossil fuels and acknowledge the role producers have to play in facilitating a managed and equitable transition," Michael Lazarus, a lead author and the director of the SEI U.S. center, said in a statement. "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."

Guterres also called for decisive action at the climate talks, which begin at the end of the month.

"COP28 must send a clear signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas—that its end is inevitable," he said. "We need credible commitments to ramp up renewables, phase out fossil fuels, and boost energy efficiency, while ensuring a just, equitable transition. Fossil fuels are sending essential climate goals up in smoke. It's time for change."

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