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Previous: Massive Climate Threats We Must Avoid Next: Calculating Impact Of Dirtiest Energy Projects

The world continues to burn coal, oil and gas at alarming rates. The appetite for burning these dangerous fossil fuels increases, despite years of warnings from climate scientists that continued burning and high levels of carbon dioxide emissions will cause catastrophic climate change.

In 2009, the world leaders attending the UN climate conference in Copenhagen agreed that emissions must be reduced, and promised the world they would take action. In 2010 and 2011, the immediate years after the conference, CO2 emissions grew twice as fast as the worst-case projections leading to 6°C warming. The world is rapidly nearing the point of no return for preventing the climate chaos that will affect us all, and cause untold human suffering.

This report examines the impact that 14 massive coal, oil and gas extraction projects would have on climate change if they were to be implemented. Together, the emissions from burning the coal, oil and gas from these extraction projects would add an enormous 300 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) emissions to the atmosphere by 2050. Of immediate concern is the impact these projects would have up until 2020, the period when significant reductions must happen to avoid the point of no return.

These projects would add 6.34 gigatonnes (Gt) of new emissions to the atmosphere in 2020, more new CO2 emissions than the total emissions produced annually by the US. The result would be a 20% increase in global emissions at a time when there is an urgent need for emissions to start decreasing.

In 2011, when the IEA announced the record high global emissions of 31.2Gt, it projected that emissions will grow “to 37.0Gt in 2035, pointing to a long-term average temperature increase of 3.6°C, even assuming that emission reduction and clean energy ambitions announced to date are fully implemented. In November 2012, both the IEA and the World Bank released reports indicating that the world is clearly heading for climate catastrophe.

In its news release, the World Bank put the threat of climate change succinctly: “The world is barrelling down a path to heat up by 4°C at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change, triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes that include extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, according to a new scientific report released today that was commissioned by the World Bank.”

The additional 6Gt of emissions from these 14 projects makes the scenarios of the IEA and the World Bank that are leading to catastrophic climate change look even worse.

The significant increase that would result from adding the emissions of the 14 projects would lock the world onto a path to an average global temperature increase of more than 2ºC. As the IEA has suggested, it is more than likely that these new emissions will cause the global average temperature to soar to 4°C and quite possibly to 6ºC of global warming. These projects have the potential to ensure the world is irretrievably on course to suffer extreme weather events, increased conflict, reduced availability of food and water, and potentially catastrophic disruption.

Climate scientists have identified a “carbon budget,” an amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded to keep global warming from overshooting dangerous limits. In November 2012, the IEA said in its annual World Energy Outlook that no more than one-third of the carbon contained in the proven reserves of fossil fuels can be released into the atmosphere by 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal. The 14 projects alone would eat up 30% of the carbon budget by 2050, and would ensure total emissions exceed the limits.

The world is heading towards climate chaos because a handful of governments and a small number of companies in the fossil fuel industry are pushing these 14 projects, apparently without any regard for the climate consequences. In the case of the governments, their actions are also without regard for their promises to curb emissions.

Climate change is arguably the gravest environmental challenge facing the world now. Unchecked, climate change will cause significant human suffering and economic problems. The climate is now being altered by the CO2 emissions that have been pumped into our atmosphere for more than a century.

Climate scientists are largely in agreement that climate change, caused by our burning of coal, oil and gas, is already having severe consequences. These consequences are coming at a time when the increase in the global average temperature is about 0.8ºC, well below the level of 2ºC that international climate scientists agree the world must stay under in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The investment needed for these 14 projects would bring additional coal, oil and gas to market and, as a result, would lock in outdated sources of energy for decades. These projects would undermine the spectacular development of renewable energy around the world over the last few years. They would also wreak havoc on some of the most iconic ecosystems in the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Arctic, the Yellow River of China, the Great Bear Rainforest on the west coast of Canada, and the tropical rainforests of Indonesia.

A sign of the world’s addiction to fossil fuels is that, even in the face of the clear option to reduce emissions provided by the rise in the impact of renewables, the fossil fuel industry is going after some of the most difficult and dangerous fossil fuels ever to be extracted. Techniques proposed to exploit dirty fuels in the Arctic and off the Brazilian coast have already caused significant accidents31, such as the disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The 14 massive coal, oil and gas extraction projects covered in this report are the worst of the worst. These projects would have the largest emissions of any projects on Earth today and would cause the largest increases in greenhouse gas emissions:

Australia: by 2025, coal exports would increase to 408 million tonnes a year above 2011 levels, pushing associated CO2 emissions up by 1,200 million tonnes a year once the coal is burned. By then, the CO2 emissions caused by Australian coal exports would be three times as large as the emissions from Australia’s entire domestic energy use.

China: China’s five northwestern provinces plan to increase coal production by 620 million tonnes by 2015, generating an additional 1,400 million tonnes of CO2 a year, almost equal to Russia’s emissions in 2010.

The US: plans to export an additional 190 million tonnes of coal a year, mainly through the Pacific Northwest. This would add 420 million tonnes of CO2 a year to global emissions before 2020; more than the entire CO2 emissions from fossil fuels in Brazil in 2010.

Indonesia: plans a massive expansion in coal exports from the island of Kalimantan which would add 460 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2020, creating dire environmental impacts for the local people and the tropical forests.

Canada: production of oil from the tar sands in Alberta will triple from 1.5 to 4.5 million barrels a day by 2035, adding 706 million tonnes of CO2 to global emissions a year. By 2020, the tar sands expansion would add annual emissions of 420 million tonnes of CO2, equal to those of Saudi Arabia.

The Arctic: Oil companies plan to take advantage of melting sea ice in the environmentally sensitive Arctic region to produce up to 8 million barrels a day of oil and gas. If the plan were to succeed, despite mounting technical obstacles and enormous environmental risks, the drilling would add 520 million tonnes of CO2 a year to global emissions by 2020, as much as the entire national emissions of Canada, and 1,200 million tonnes by 2030.

Brazil: companies intend to extract up to 4 million barrels of oil a day from underneath the Brazilian ocean, adding 660 million tonnes of CO2 to annual global emissions by 2035.

Gulf of Mexico: plans for new deepwater oil drilling would produce 2.1 million barrels of oil a day in 2016, adding 350 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to the emissions of France in 2010.

Venezuela: the Orinoco tar sands will produce 2.3 million barrels of new oil a day by 2035, adding 190 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

The US: new production will deliver 310 billion cubic metres a year of shale gas in 2035, adding 280 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020.

Kazakhstan: new production in the Caspian Sea will deliver 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2025, adding 290 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan: new production in the Caspian Sea will deliver 100 billion cubic metres of natural gas by 2020, adding 240 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Africa: new production will provide 64 billion cubic metres of natural gas by 2015 and 250 billion cubic metres to 2035, adding 260 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

Iraq: new production will deliver 1.9 million barrels of oil a day by 2016 and 4.9 million barrels a day by 2035, adding 420 million tonnes of CO2 in 2020.

A full discussion of selected projects appears in the Appendix to this report, detailing the anticipated production levels and CO2 emissions, and outlining the significant environmental harm these projects will cause.

These projects are being pushed ahead because the world has not curbed its demand for fossil fuels. The dirty coal-mining projects are driven by the construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, most importantly in China, India, the EU and Russia, followed by the US, Vietnam, Turkey and South Africa. A report by the World Resources Institute in November 2012 showed that countries are planning to build 1,200 new coal-fired electricity plants, a looming disaster for the climate.

The EU, which has positioned itself as a leader on combating climate change, is also part of the problem of increasing emissions. Its coal consumption and associated CO2 emissions have grown significantly in the past two years, while its political will to tackle climate change has waned.

While most EU countries don’t have plans to extend their reliance on coal, Poland, Germany, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Greece, and Slovenia are still allowing the construction of new dirty power stations. As the world’s second largest coal importer and oil consumer, the EU must do more to curb its emissions.

The EU needs to regain its leadership in tackling climate change by playing a major role in preventing these massive dirty energy projects from going ahead. The EU has been the historic leader in the roll-out of renewable energy, more fuel-efficient cars and other key clean energy solutions, and it urgently needs to show leadership again in phasing out dirty fuels.

c02 emissions, climate change

dirty energy projects

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