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Massive Climate Threats We Must Avoid

  Next: The World's Biggest Dirty Energy Projects

The world is quickly reaching a Point of No Return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. Continuing on the current course will make it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent the widespread and catastrophic impacts of climate change. The costs will be substantial: billions spent to deal with the destruction of extreme weather events, untold human suffering, and the deaths of tens of millions from the impacts by as soon as 2030.

With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire US, and delay action on climate change for more than a decade. The 14 massive projects discussed in this report would add a total of 300 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Gt CO2 e) of new emissions to the atmosphere by 2050 from the extraction, production and burning of 49,600 million tonnes of coal, 29,400 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 260,000 million barrels of oil. This represents an enormous increase in new fossil fuels, and an enormous increase in the impact on the global atmosphere. The research for this new report was carried out by Ecofys, a consulting company expert in sustainable energy solutions and climate policies.

Burning the coal, oil and gas from these 14 projects would significantly push emissions over what climate scientists have identified as the “carbon budget”, the amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded if we are to keep climate change from spiralling out of control. The crucial period is the time until 2020.

In 2020, the emissions from the 14 projects showcased in this report – if they all were to go ahead – would raise global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 20% and keep the world on a path towards 5°C to 6°C of warming. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the rise in global temperatures needs to be limited to below 2°C. Therefore, the addition of CO2 of this magnitude in the next few years would push the climate beyond the point of no return, locking the world into a scenario leading to catastrophic climate change, and ensuring that we run out of time.

Emissions are already out of control. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) global CO2 emissions increased by 5% in 2010 for the largest recorded absolute increase, and went on to grow by over 3% in 2011, exceeding worst-case projections that would lead to 5°C to 6°C of long-term warming. To avoid locking us into catastrophic warming, the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure needs to stop within five years– placing the planned dirty energy projects in direct conflict with a livable climate.

The 14 dirty energy projects in this report range from massive expansion of coal mining in China, to large-scale expansion of coal exports from Australia, the US and Indonesia, to the development of risky unconventional sources of oil in the tar sands of Canada, in the Arctic, in the ocean off the coast of Brazil, in Iraq, in the Gulf of Mexico and in Kazakhstan, and to gas production in Africa and the Caspian Sea. They are the biggest dirty energy projects planned in the coming decades.

For more than two decades, climate scientists have warned that, unless heat-trapping emissions are reduced significantly, severe consequences from climate change will follow. Avoiding the worst impacts means limiting the rise in global temperatures to below 2°C – in itself an extremely rapid change compared with the Earth’s past. In November 2012, both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank cautioned that the world is heading to a temperature increase of between 3.6°C and 4ºC. With the additional CO2 from these 14 projects, the average global temperature will more likely exceed 4°C and quite possibly 6ºC – the worst scenarios identified by climate scientists.

Yet, a handful of governments and a small number of companies in the fossil fuel industry are pushing these projects, apparently without a care about the climate consequences. 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 development of these new coal, oil and gas projects would come at a time when climate scientists are increasingly linking alarming extreme weather events to climate change. These extreme weather events include Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, droughts in the US in 2012 and 2011, heat waves and forest fires in Russia in 2010, and the European heat wave in 2003 that killed tens of thousands. The disasters the world is experiencing now are happening at a time when the average global temperature has increased by 0.8ºC, and they are just a taste of our future if greenhouse gas emissions continue to balloon.

The impact on people if we trigger catastrophic climate change will be terrible. In September 2012, a new report, commissioned by 20 governments, gave an insight into the disaster that is coming. It estimated that climate change is already taking 5 million lives a year. By 2030, deaths could total 100 million.

Ecofys’ research identifies pathways to climate disaster and pathways to avoid climate chaos.

The most attractive avoidance pathway identified by Ecofys shows there is still a 75% chance of keeping the increase in the average global temperature below 2°C if actions are taken now to reduce emissions. This would not be easy, but it is possible. One of the key actions is to avoid the massive new emissions from the 14 projects in this report. It would also require governments to do what they have promised and reduce global emissions. The Ecofys 75% pathway requires ensuring emissions peak by 2015 and then drop by 5% annually. The new CO2 emissions avoided by cancelling these dirty energy projects would cover about one third of the total reductions needed to head off catastrophic climate change.

The huge gap between what governments say they are doing to prevent catastrophic climate change and what they are actually doing is most evident with these 14 projects. The governments that have approved them have all agreed that the global average temperature must be kept below 2°C.

If the governments supporting the projects in this report help push the world past the point of no return, the great irony will be that the resulting climate chaos was preventable. The technology for avoiding the emissions from these projects and for reducing overall global emissions exists right now.

Clean and safe renewable energy, coupled with a much-increased implementation of energy efficiency, can provide the power needed to run the planet and avoid the risks of pushing us ever closer to catastrophic climate change. That is abundantly clear from the astounding progress in the development of renewable energy over the past decade.

In 2011, renewable energy provided over 30% of new electricity production globally, up from less than 5% in 2005. This explosive growth can continue and is by far the best hope for avoiding the most serious impacts of climate change.

The global renewable-energy scenario developed by Greenpeace – the Energy [R]evolution – shows how to deliver the power and mobility the dirty projects are promising, without the emissions and the destruction; not only faster, but also at a lower cost. The scenario indicates that by 2035 renewable energy must increase to 65% of electricity production, and energy efficiency must increase to reduce the impact the world is already seeing from climate change and to avoid the catastrophe of a global average temperature increase of 4°C to 6ºC. The world cannot afford to allow the major new coal projects detailed in this report to go ahead and lock in decades of dirty electricity production, or to allow the oil projects to delay the shift to more sustainable transport systems.

The Greenpeace scenario shows that by 2020 renewable energy could deliver twice as much power as the combined output of the four coal projects highlighted in this report. More efficient cars, plus a switch to cleaner fuels and a much smarter use of energy in power generation, buildings and industry, could save more oil than the seven massive oil projects featured in this report could produce. There would be no need to exploit the oil and gas in the fragile Arctic if the world adopted a clean energy future.

The clean energy future made possible by the dramatic development of renewable energy will only become a reality if governments rein in investments in dirty fossil fuels and support renewable energy.

The world is clearly at a Point of No Return: either replace coal, oil and gas with renewable energy, or face a future turned upside down by climate change.

“A handful of governments and a small number of companies in the fossil fuel industry are pushing these projects, apparently without a care about the climate consequences.”

climate change threats global warming

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  Next: The World's Biggest Dirty Energy Projects


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