Study highlights conflict between Washington’s claims of climate leadership and its fossil fuel growth plans
Canada and Russia have the next biggest expansion plans, calculated based on how much carbon dioxide is likely to be produced from new developments, followed by Iran, China and Brazil. The United Arab Emirates, which is to host the annual UN climate summit this year, Cop28 in Dubai in November, is seventh on the list.
The data, in a report from the campaign group Oil Change International, also showed that five “global north countries” – the US, Canada, Australia, Norway and the UK – will be responsible for just over half of all the planned expansion from new oil and gas fields to 2050.
Greenhouse gas emissions from all of the oil and gas expansion that is planned in the next three decades would be more than enough to drive global temperatures well beyond the limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels that countries agreed in 2021 at Cop26 in Glasgow, the report found.
The International Energy Agency warned in 2021 that no new oil and gas exploration and development could take place if the world was to stay within the 1.5C limit. But only a handful of countries with oil and gas reserves are forswearing new exploration and drilling.
Romain Ioualalen, the global policy lead at Oil Change International and co-author of the report, said countries must call a halt to fossil fuel expansion. “It’s simple: when you are in a hole, the first step is to stop digging,” he said. “The climate crisis is global in nature, but is atrociously unjust. A handful of the world’s richest nations are risking our future by willingly ignoring the calls to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.”
The report, titled Planet wreckers: how 20 countries’ oil and gas extraction plans risk locking in climate chaos, published on Tuesday, found that 20 countries were responsible for plans for new oil and gas developments by 2050 that would add about 173bn tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. That amount is the same as the lifetime emissions of 1,100 coal-fired power plants, or more than 30 years of the US’s annual emissions.
By contrast, if countries were to forego bringing new oil and gas fields into production, the decline of existing fields would mean global oil and gas production would slow by about 2% a year from now to 2030, and 5% a year from 2030 to 2050.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has stepped up calls for countries to get out of fossil fuels, warning of “moral and economic madness”, and has said fossil fuel interests have “humanity by the throat”. He will convene a conference of world leaders later this month in New York to try to elicit fresh commitments to tackle the climate crisis.
He has told world leaders they will be allowed to participate in the summit, on the sidelines of the annual UN general assembly, only if they can show that they have clear implementation plans to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Guardian revealed at the weekend that Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, had been warned of the UN’s strict policy on whether leaders could participate before he took the highly unusual decision not to attend the UN general assembly.
Sunak promised over the summer to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas operations in the North Sea, with scores of potential new licences.
Tessa Khan, the executive director at the UK campaigning organisation Uplift, said: “We’re often told that the UK is a climate leader, but this research confirms that we’re now part of a tiny club of countries that are having an outsized role in driving the climate crisis. We know we cannot keep opening up new oil and gas fields if we want a habitable world, yet that is exactly what this government is doing.”
She added: “Rishi Sunak needs to stop bowing to the demands of the fossil fuel companies, who continue to rake in obscene profits while millions of us cannot afford to heat our homes.”
A spokesperson for the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “This report ignores the great strides we have taken in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Between 1990 and 2021, we cut emissions by 48% while growing our economy by 65% – decarbonising faster than any other G7 country.
“Even in 2050, when we have reached net zero, it is estimated the UK may still be using a quarter of the gas we do now and, as well as strengthening our energy security, independent research has shown domestically produced gas is on average four times cleaner than imports.”