UNBURNED: The atlas of Unburnable fossil fuels



While the Paris Agreement envisions a transition away from fossil fuels, their extraction and the consequent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to intensify, posing serious challenges towards the achievement of the climate policy targets of global mean temperature to remain below to 1.5°C.

To limit the increase in global mean temperature to 1.5 °C, CO2 emissions must be drastically reduced. Accordingly, approximately 97%, 81%, and 71% of existing coal and conventional gas and oil resources, respectively, need to remain unburned.

This project aims to develop an integrated spatial assessment model based on estimates and locations of conventional oil resources and socio-environmental criteria to construct a global atlas of unburnable oil.

The selection of the fossil fuel resources that need to stay under the ground is a crucial, required and pending step to enact, scaled-up and globally adopt climate policies in a coordinated manner for reaching the climate policy targets.

By rigorously studying the geospatial socio-environmental, economic and equity criteria for identifying and prioritizing fossil fuel reserves that need to be left untapped globally, UNBURNED addresses the urgent need for interdisciplinary research to understand how the climate change policy targets can be concretely met, contributing to a rapid, economically effective and equitable phase-out of fossil fuel production, while delivering important socio-environmental benefits. Such imperative research will be further exploited to create a flexible and interactive online platform (the atlas of unburnable fuels) to provide a simple guideline for energy corporations and governments on coordinated divestment strategies and future investment to minimize the risks of stranded assets.

This geospatial platform will facilitate the achievement of multiple applied and scientific outputs relevant for the strategic implementation of climate mitigation policy options including:

a) the elaboration of improved scientific assessments on alternative spatial divestment strategies and their impacts,

b) the provision and implementation of geospatial tools allowing well-informed spatial divestment plans,

c) the facilitation of cooperative strategic planning and standardised disclosure commitments by multiple key energy sector actors, and

d) the provision to policymakers of global and regional maps of fossil fuel divestment priorities.



The UNBURNED project will implement four main objectives

1 To build the first global geospatial database of fossil fuel reserves and resources at the required spatial grain (coal deposits and oil and gas fields) for unburnable fuels identification to scales useful for decision-makers.

2: To develop, integrate and select an harmonised set of economic, social, environmental and state-level political indicators to better identify those reserves/resources to be left untapped globally.

3: To geospatially identify and prioritize unburnable fossil fuels to minimize environental impacts, enhance collateral socio-environmental benefits and guide investment shifts allowing fossil fuel divestment and descarbonisation strategies, according to the criteria previously selected.

4: To develop and implement the UNBURNED multi-actor tool; allowing the incoporation of standardised and harmonised disclosures and audited reports by key actors of the fossil fuel energy sector and other relevant stakeholders (governments, scientific panels), to

  1. a) foster transparency, interpretability, cooperation and open discussion on strategic divestment plans,
  2. b) generally inform policy-makers and global citizens of the available policy options, investment trajectories and mitigation pathways.



The first results show that biodiversity hotspots, richness centres of endemic species, natural protected areas, urban areas, and the territories of Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation coincide with 609 gigabarrels (Gbbl) of conventional oil resources. Since 1524 Gbbl of conventional oil resources are required to be left untapped in order to keep global warming under 1.5 °C, all of the abovementioned socio-environmentally sensitive areas can be kept entirely off limits to oil extraction. The model provides spatial guidelines to select unburnable fossil fuel resources while enhancing collateral socioenvironmental benefits.



EU Next Generation and Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación

Research area


Team members

Research Professor
Postdoctoral researcher
Research assistant
Postdoctoral researcher
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