Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins of the Institute for Sustainable Resources at University College London have published a paper in the scientific journal Nature presenting their research on “the carbon bubble” aka as “stranded assets”. They come to alarming conclusions for fossil fuel producers: no new exploration should be undertaken anymore if climate change is to be contained.
Policy makers have agreed that the average global temperature rise caused by greenhouse gas emissions should not exceed 2 °C above the average global temperature of pre-industrial times. McGlade and Ekins note that “It has been estimated that to have at least a 50 per cent chance of keeping warming below 2 °C throughout the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon emissions between 2011 and 2050 need to be limited to around 1,100 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2).”
However, they note that “the greenhouse gas emissions contained in present estimates of global fossil fuel reserves are around three times higher than this, and so the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 °C.”
Using a “single integrated assessment model that contains estimates of the quantities, locations and nature of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves and resources, which is shown to be consistent with a wide variety of modelling approaches with different assumptions“, they have “explore the implications of this emissions limit for fossil fuel production in different regions.”
Their “results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C.”
They also conclude that “that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C. Our results show that policy makers’ instincts to exploit rapidly and completely their territorial fossil fuels are, in aggregate, inconsistent with their commitments to this temperature limit.”
Finally, they note that “Implementation of this policy commitment would also render unnecessary continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, because any new discoveries could not lead to increased aggregate production.”
To read the paper, click here.