Research area

Unburnable fossil fuels and climate mitigation policies

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, compared to preindustrial levels. The “remaining carbon budget” from 2020 onward has been estimated at 440 gigatons of CO2 (GtCO2) (Matthews et al. 2021). However, the CO2 potential emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves represent a staggering 2,900 GtCO2, 6.5 times the carbon budget. In practice, and based on the opportunity costs of different fossil fuel reserves, about 89%, 59%, and 58% of existing coal, gas, and oil reserves, respectively, would need to remain under the soil to limit global warming to 1.5°C (Welsby et al. 2021).

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to preindustrial levels. To limit the increase in global mean temperature, the future anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions should not exceed a certain amount—the “remaining carbon budget” (Matthews et al. 2021; Meinshausen et al. 2009). For a 50 percent probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, the remaining carbon budget from 2020 onward has been estimated at 440 gigatons of CO2 (GtCO2) (Matthews et al. 2021). For a 2°C limit, the remaining carbon budget amounts to 1,370 GtCO2 for a 50 percent probability (Matthews et al. 2021). However, the CO2 potential emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves represent a staggering 2,900 GtCO2, or approximately 2 times higher than the 2°C carbon budget and approximately 7 times higher for a 1.5°C limit (Matthews et al. 2021; McGlade and Ekins 2015; Welsby et al. 2021). Reserves are producible resources that are “commercially viable,” and current estimates show that their extraction is incompatible with the commitments to limit average global warming (Matthews et al. 2021; McGlade and Ekins 2015; Welsby et al. 2021). In practice, and based on the opportunity costs of different fossil fuel reserves, about 89 percent, 59 percent, and 58 percent of existing coal, gas, and oil reserves, respectively, would need to remain under the soil to limit global warming to 1.5°C (for an extended explanation of the assumptions and associated uncertainties of these estimates and the risks from reserves accountability, see Green and Kuch 2022; Welsby et al. 2021).

If you are interested in doing research on any of these topics, for your Postdoc, PhD, Msc or intership, you are welcome to contact me anytime at marti.orta@ub.edu I would be happy to support you to apply to:

FI and FPU PhD grants

Active Projects research area

  • Cambio Climático

While the Paris Agreement envision a transition away from fossil fuels, their extraction and the consequent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to intensify, posing serious challenge towards the achievement of the climate policy targets of global mean temperature to remain below to 1.5°C. The total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that should not be exceeded in order to limit average global warming to a 1.5°C limit, a concept known as the remaining carbon budget, is 250 gigatons of CO2 (GtCO2). The CO2 emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves (2,900 gigatons of CO2 or GtCO2) largely exceed the carbon budget for a 1.5°C limit (250 GtCO2), showing that an actual commitment to limit global warming and tackle the climate challenge should lead to large proportions of fossil fuel reserves remaining under the ground. This prompted the discussion on unburnable fuels (or unextractable) internationally. 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. UNBURNED project will fill this gap by identifying and prioritizing at the global level those fossil fuel reserves that should remain unburned so to maximize socio-environmental collateral benefits of climate mitigation policies, while compensating over economical collateral effects. By rigorously studying the geo-spatial socioenvironmental, economic and equity criteria for identifying and prioritizing fossil fuel reserves that need to be left untapped globally, UNBURNED will address 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.

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