LONDON: According to the president of COP28, the latest round of United Nations climate negotiations in the United Arab Emirates, there is “no science” indicating that phasing out fossil fuels is necessary to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber is wrong. There is a wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating that a fossil fuel phase-out will be essential for reining in the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. I know because I have published some of it.
Back in 2021, just before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, my colleagues and I published a paper in Nature entitled Unextractable Fossil Fuels in a 1.5°C World. It argued that 90 per cent of the world’s coal and around 60 per cent of its oil and gas needed to remain underground if humanity is to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals.
Crucially, our research also highlighted that the production of oil and gas needed to start declining immediately (from 2020), at around 3 per cent each year until 2050.
This assessment was based on a clear understanding that the production and use of fossil fuels, as the primary cause of CO2 emissions (90 per cent), needs to be reduced in order to stop further heating. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that net zero CO2 emissions will only be reached globally in the early 2050s, and warming stabilised at 1.5 degrees Celsius, if a shift away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources begins immediately.
If global emissions and fossil fuel burning continue at their current rates, this warming level will be breached by 2030.
Since the publication of our Nature paper, scientists have modelled hundreds of scenarios to explore the world’s options for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Many feature in the latest report by the IPCC. Here is what they tell us about the necessary scale of a fossil fuel phase-out.