Review of The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals require a managed decline of fossil fuel production

(By Kimberly Fraser)

Leave it in the ground. That’s the two second take away from The Sky’s Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals require a managed decline of fossil fuel production, a report released by Oil Change in collaboration with 14 other organisations from around the world. However, a reader would be remiss not to delve further into this important report. It systematically lays out what action is required to achieve the goal set out in the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

Key findings of the report show that the oil, gas and coal in currently-existing mines and fields is already more than can be burned while remaining below the 2°C outer limit. At the current emissions rate, the world will reach 1.5°C warming in 2025 and 2°C warming in 2037. Two degrees might not seem like much when you’re baking a tray of your favourite biscuits but a global temperature rise of 2°C will result in melting glaciers, rising oceans and increased crop failure. As usual, it will be those who can least afford it that will experience climate change first and worst. In fact, people in developing countries are already experiencing the negative effects of climate change through increased salinization of farmlands, changes in annual rainfall and extreme weather events.

Australia and India are listed in the report as the two countries where the most expansion in coal mining is being planned. While countries such as China and Indonesia have declared moratoria on new coal mines, Australia is going ahead with major coal mining development. Nine new coal mines are proposed for the Galilee Basin in Queensland. At peak production these coal mines alone would produce enough CO2 to themselves become the world’s 7th largest emitter. Yet Australia will not be immune from the consequences of continued investment in fossil fuels. As the temperature continues to increase, Australia can expect to see increased flooding as well as coral bleaching and other risks to marine life. This will have a knock-on effect on the tourism industry.

Despite the downright frightening findings of the report, it doesn’t leave the reader wondering about a solution. The report outlines how a process of gradual reduction of current extractive operations together with strong investment in clean energy will mitigate rising global temperatures. The report takes into account principles of just transition to ensure workers and communities will not be harmed by the shift to clean energy. Straightforward recommendations are put forward to overcome any economic or technical barriers to the transition. Ultimately, the report points out, the only remaining requirement is political will.

The changes required to mitigate the rise in global temperature will be resisted by some of the world’s most profitable companies, especially in Australia, home to several of the world’s mining giants. The Sky’s Limit calls for political courage and decisive action. With a climate change denier now the president of the world’s second-largest producer of coal and the second-largest emitter of CO2, reports such as this one that outline consequences while providing solid solutions are more necessary than ever.

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