New research: Existing coal mines, oil and gas fields contain enough carbon to tip us over the edge

Saudi Arabia oil field
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Once considered a fringe notion, the idea that some coal, oil and gas reserves are essentially worthless because exploiting them would destroy our carbon budget has now attracted such mainstream luminaries as the Governor of the Bank of England. But new research suggests that even this worrying scenario may be overly optimistic.

As reported over at The Guardian, a new report from Oil Change International suggests that even existing coal mines, and oil and gas fields, contain entirely too much carbon to be safely exploited without sending us over the 2 degree threshold aspired to by the Paris climate agreement. Here are the reports key findings:

—The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.
—The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.
—With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.

If true, the implications of these findings should not be underestimated. Instead of continuing with exploration efforts, say the reports authors, it's time to start considering how we undertake a managed transition to renewables, including phasing out existing, working mines and fields before they are fully exploited—especially in richer countries that are less dependent on fossil fuel revenues to maintain their national economies.

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