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Countries committed to stopping warming are expanding fossil fuels, report says

By 2030, if current projections are confirmed, the United States will extract more oil and gas than at any time in its history. Russia and Saudi Arabia are considering doing the same.

They are among the world’s fossil fuel giants that together are on track to produce twice as much fossil fuel this decade as a critical threshold of global warming allows, according to a United Nations-backed report released Wednesday.

The report, which examines 20 major fossil fuel-producing countries, highlights the wide gap between world leaders’ lofty promises to take stronger action on climate change and their countries’ actual production plans.

This month, leaders are expected to meet at a global climate summit in Dubai to discuss how to reduce their emissions that contribute to global warming. But in the face of strong opposition from major fossil fuel producers, climate conferences have so far been reluctant to discuss phasing out fossil fuels.

Emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are the main culprits of global warming, which is already intensifying storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires and droughts. Scientists say it is more than likely that 2023 will be the hottest year on record.

“We cannot confront the climate catastrophe without addressing its root cause: dependence on fossil fuels,” said António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general.

“Fossil fuel emissions are already causing climate chaos that is devastating lives and livelihoods,” he said. Yet “governments are literally doubling their production of fossil fuels.”

Almost all countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, the global climate pact which aims to limit the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to pre-industrial levels.

And over the past decade, governments and businesses have made progress in their shift away from fossil fuels, for example by expanding wind and solar power and investing in electric vehicle infrastructure.

Yet the report released Wednesday, led by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute, reveals that the world’s nations plan to continue increasing coal production until 2030, and oil and gas production decades beyond.

This means the world remains on track to produce around 110 percent more oil, gas and coal by 2030, which would be permissible if governments wanted to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, warns Researchers. The world would also exceed, by 69 percent, the amount of fossil fuels compatible with limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

Beyond these thresholds, the world faces the danger of irreversible and catastrophic damage of climate change, scientists say. The planet has already warmed by an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

There have been some signs of progress. In September, the first Official Bulletin on the global climate pact said the worst-case climate change scenarios that were feared in the early 2010s seemed much less likely today. The authors partly credited countries’ nascent efforts to rein in their emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as the rapid growth of clean energy.

Last month, the world’s main energy agency predicted that global demand for fossil fuels could actually peaks by 2030as policies to promote cleaner forms of energy and transport are put in place.

This prediction, however, was criticized by the oil producing countries themselves: The OPEC oil cartel warned that such predictions could lead countries to underinvest in oil and gas projects, leading to a lack of supply and “energy chaos”.

Wednesday’s report places the responsibility for reducing fossil fuel production squarely on the world’s richest nations. For each fossil fuel – coal, oil or gas – the combined production levels projected by just the 10 highest-income countries would already warm the planet beyond 1.5 degrees by 2040, said Ploy Achakulwisut, who led the research.

State-owned companies control about half of the world’s oil and gas production, and more than half of coal production. But even in countries like the United States, where the private sector is dominant, government policies such as fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks continue to support production. Global Fossil fuel subsidies hit record $7 trillion last year, according to a tally from the International Monetary Fund. That’s more than governments around the world spend on education each year.

Some countries with large fossil fuel reserves are now fighting to be the last producers standing even as the overall market begins to slow, saying they can drill for fossil fuels more cleanly than their competitors, said Researchers.

“But when you take all of these together, this is what leads to the output gap,” said Michael Lazarus, co-author of the report. “It is the desire of each country to maximize its own production.”

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