Old pump jacks move up and down in the Kern River Oil Field outside of Bakersfield, CA
Old pump jacks move up and down in the Kern River Oil Field outside of Bakersfield, CA. Credit: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep warming “well below” 2°C, the world must act now to phase-down the consumption and production of coal, oil and natural gas. Yet the Agreement has been silent on the question of fossil fuel production.

A new paper from SEI finds that countries can take action to address fossil fuel production, using the existing UNFCCC process and provisions in the Agreement. They can commit to fossil-fuel production targets, outline plans for a managed decline and just transition for affected communities, and remove ongoing financial support that results in increases fossil fuel production.

The paper comes during the UNFCCC’s annual climate conference in Bonn, Germany, where negotiators will discuss the development of the “rulebook” for delivering the Paris Agreement.

“The opportunity is there to plan for a decline in fossil fuels,” said SEI Scientist Georgia Piggot, the paper’s lead author. “Everyone in Bonn needs to be thinking about how to build this into the parts of the Paris Agreement where they have responsibilities.”

The UNFCCC is the main process for negotiating the international response to climate change. If it is silent on fossil fuels, it becomes easier for governments, industries and other actors to remain vague about plans to phase down fossil-fuel production.

SEI researchers identified several options that both individual countries and the UNFCCC can take to pursue a phase-down in fossil fuel production. Though the Paris Agreement does not specifically mention fossil fuels, it provides several opportunities for action.

Among SEI’s findings:

  • Countries can include targets and actions related to fossil fuel supply in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). (Article 4 of the Paris Agreement)
  • Countries can plan for a phase-down of fossil fuels in their “long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies” (LTSs). (Article 4 of the Paris Agreement)
  • The UNFCCC can track progress towards a phase-down of fossil fuels through the global stocktake. (Article 14 of the Paris Agreement)
  • The UNFCCC could help countries by providing technical and capacity-building support for a fossil fuel phase-down (Article 11 of the Paris Agreement)

The Paris Agreement also includes numerous other avenues to address fossil fuel supply. One of its goals, for example, is to make “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.” A global agreement to phase down fossil fuel subsidies – and move away from such “brown” finance – would further this goal.

“The ambition of the Paris goals is often framed as an emissions gap. But there is also a production gap, in which countries are planning to produce way more fossil fuels than needed under a 2-degree limit. Our paper shows how they could close this gap”,” said SEI Senior Scientist Peter Erickson, a co-author on the paper. “If fossil fuel production is left aside in the development of the Paris rulebook, it could be many years before there is another opportunity to revisit it. By then, it may be too late to keep warming below two degrees.”

SEI Senior Scientist Peter Erickson will discuss the paper’s findings during the Nov. 8 side event at COP23: “A Pacific Talanoa on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

Read the SEI Policy Brief

Read the SEI Working Paper

For interviews and further information, please contact:

Georgia Piggot, Staff Scientist, SEI’s U.S. Center
georgia.piggot@sei-us.org +1 206 547-4000 x2#

Peter Erickson, Senior Scientist, SEI’s U.S. Center
pete.erickson@sei-us.org +1 206 547-4000 x3# @SEI_Erickson

Emily Yehle, Communications Officer, SEI’s U.S. Center
emily.yehle@sei-us.org +1 202 744-9055 @yehle