Released, on Wednesday, in the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, the Production Gap Report also revealed that while the pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to “short-term drops” in coal, oil and gas production, pre-COVID plans and post-COVID stimulus measures point to a continuation of increasing fossil fuel production.
“As we seek to reboot economies following the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in low-carbon energy and infrastructure will be good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future.”
The Production Gap Report, produced jointly by research institutions – Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Overseas Development Institute, and E3G – and UNEP, measures the “gap” between the aspirations of the Paris Agreement on climate change and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas.
The report also comes at a potential turning point, according to the author organizations, as the global pandemic prompts unprecedented government action – and as major economies, including China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions.
‘Recover better together’
The 2020 edition found that the “production gap” remains large: countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature limit.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the report showed “without a doubt” that the production and use of fossil needs to decrease quickly if the world is to achieve Paris Agreement goals.
“This is vital to ensure both a climate-safe future and strong, sustainable economies for all countries – including those most affected by the shift from grey to green,” he said.
“Governments must work on diversifying their economies and supporting workers, including through COVID-19 recovery plans that do not lock in unsustainable fossil fuel pathways but instead share the benefits of green and sustainable recoveries. We can and must recover better together.”
Use COVID-19 recovery plans
The report outlined key areas of action, providing policymakers with options to start winding down fossil fuels as they enact COVID-19 recovery plans.
“Governments should direct recovery funds towards economic diversification and a transition to clean energy that offers better long-term economic and employment potential,” said Ivetta Gerasimchuk, report co-author and lead for sustainable energy supplies at IISD.
She also highlighted that the pandemic-driven demand shock and the plunge of oil prices this year once again demonstrated the vulnerability of many fossil-fuel-dependent regions and communities.
“The only way out of this trap is diversification of these economies beyond fossil fuels,” Ms. Gerasimchuk added.
A ‘clear’ solution
The report also urged reduction of existing government support for fossil fuels, introduction of restrictions on production, and stimulus funds for green investments.
Michael Lazarus, report co-author and the head of SEI’s US Center, underscored “research is abundantly clear, we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases.”
“The research is similarly clear on the solution: government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them. This report offers steps that governments can take today for a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels.”