A recent report* estimates that most of the known reserves of coal, oil and gas must remain in the ground.

We must keep emissions down to keep global warming to less than 2°C. If all the world's reserves are burnt, the burning will produce more than three times the emissions to stay below 2°C - the threshold of dangerous global warming.

The implications of the report are that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of coal reserves should remain unused between 2010 and 2050. 

The researchers say that any increase in unconventional oil production, and even continued substantial expenditure on fossil fuel exploration, is unnecessary. This means no fracking for shale gas.

On a regional scale, the authors propose that the development of resources in the Arctic should be avoided and that the Middle East holds more than half of the ‘unburnable’ oil and gas reserves. In Africa, Australia, the former Soviet Union and the USA 90 per cent or more of coal is classed as ‘unburnable’. 

Further, they show that carbon capture and storage, even if implemented widely after 2025, would have a relatively modest effect on the overall levels of fossil fuel that can be utilised before 2050 in a 2°C scenario. It seems that the main conclusion of the research is unavoidable.

*McGlade, Christophe and Paul Ekins. “The Geographical Distribution of Fossil Fuels Unused When Limiting Global Warming to 2 °C.” Nature 517, no. 7533 (January 7, 2015): 187–90. doi:10.1038/nature14016.

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