Fossil Fuel Supply, Green Growth, and Unburnable Carbon (Stockholm Environment Institute)

Stockholm Environment Institute / January 2014

Stockholm Environment InstituteThis briefing explores the consequences of continued investment in fossil fuel infrastructure given that the majority of fossil fuels cannot be burned if we are to keep global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The authors base their findings on three premises: 1) governments will agree an international deal to reduce emissions, 2) new technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will not be used immediately meaning there will have to be bigger reductions in burning of fossil fuels, and 3) there has been insufficient focus on policies to limit the infrastructure being built to extract fossil fuels.

This third point is important because of the danger of “lock in” whereby:

“Supply-side investments in expanding fossil fuel extraction (e.g. coal mines, gas and oil deposits) render economies and societies reliant upon and thus supportive of fossil fuels, creating the economic and political constituencies that perpetuate global high-emission pathways. A prime example is Canada’s oil sands development, which has transformed the country’s domestic politics and helped precipitate an end to its international climate leadership.

The figure on fossil fuels exploited vs what is left in the ground relative to a 2°C emissions budget (in terms of CO2 emissions resulting from fuel use) is particularly useful in visualising remaining resources and production of coal, oil, gas (conventional and unconventional).

The briefing concludes that while a focus on the demand side of fossil fuels (e.g. taxes, promoting renewable energies, energy efficiency) is important “supply-side policies and actions to address climate change are, for the most part, still in their infancy. Like supply-side analytical frameworks, however, they could provide valuable tools in helping to create effective low-carbon pathways”.

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This summary was prepared by Why Green Economy?. The views expressed have been paraphrased. See the original source for more information.

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