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Inspiring equitable transitions from fossil fuels after Covid-19

Through the second Production Gap Report, SEI and its partners worked to ensure the global Covid recovery does not lock in more fossil fuel production.

Huntington Beach oil rig offshore with oil spill, Huntington Beach, California. Photo: Arvind Vallabh / Unsplash.

Date published
7 December 2022
A story from
Costa Rica

This impact story is from our 2020 annual report .

Through the second Production Gap Report, SEI and its partners worked to ensure the global Covid recovery does not lock in more fossil fuel production.

SEI has spent years working to shift global agendas on climate, energy and development, so that governments are aligning their fossil fuel production plans with the climate goals agreed at the 2015 Paris Agreement. 2019 marked an important milestone for these efforts, when SEI and its partners released the Production Gap Report, which garnered worldwide coverage and caught the attention of policymakers.

Continuing the first report’s momentum, SEI – in partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Overseas Development Institute, CICERO Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, Climate Analytics and the UN Environment Programme – released the follow-up report in November 2020, which considered the production gap in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

SEI works to avoid lock-ins after lockdown

The Covid-19 pandemic and its social and economic impacts have introduced new uncertainties to closing the production gap. The pandemic – and the lockdown measures to halt its spread – led to a decline in fossil fuel production. But countries’ pre-Covid plans and post-Covid stimulus measures all suggest that the global fossil fuel production gap will continue to grow. The 2021 report found that the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by 6% per year to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Yet countries are planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, producing more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5°C temperature increase limit.

This year’s report also explored the equity dimensions of a transition away from fossil fuels. It dedicated an entire chapter to examine how countries, with limited financial and institutional capacity, will face significant sustainable development challenges, that are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries highly dependent on fossil fuels and with limited capacity to transition away from their dependency will need international support to do so. The report discusses practical pathways to help that cooperation.

Charts show the gap between different projections of fossil fuel production.

The fossil fuel production gap – the difference between national production plans and low-carbon (1.5°C and 2°C) pathways, as expressed in fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will continue to widen if countries return to their pre-COVID plans and projections for expanded fossil fuel production. Alternatively, strong green recovery efforts could put future fossil fuel production on a pathway much closer to Paris Agreement limits. Graphic: The Production Gap Report 2020 .

SEI’s partnerships for change and innovative communications drive impact

SEI’s strong and enduring partnerships were the driving force behind this work. Working closely with influential partners, including UNEP, UNSG, the ODI, the IIDD and E3G, provided the foundations to create a scientifically credible and policy relevant report. Additional external funding ensured SEI had the resources to meet the ambitious goals for the report.

A well-developed and smoothly implemented communications strategy, which included producing and releasing materials in multiple languages and multi-media outputs, significantly helped the work to reach its target audiences. SEI’s team worked closely with UNEP representatives to coordinate the launch of the 2020 report so that it was released on the same day that the UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave his “State of the Planet” speech and was included as part of their overall engagement plans around the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

Production Gap report findings continue to inspire change

Following in the footsteps of last year’s report, the 2020 Report proved to be an invaluable tool for those working to wind down fossil fuel supply in a just and equitable manner. In his “State of the Planet” speech, Guterres cited one of PGR 2020’s key findings and called for states to do more to close the gap: “The world must cut fossil fuel production by 6% per year to avoid the worst of global warming. Instead, countries are projecting an average annual increase of 2%.” Following the call, the UN has requested to use the 2020 report in the forthcoming IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.

Several countries have announced new commitments to phase down fossil fuel supply as part of their climate mitigation policies. The day after the 2020 report’s release, the Danish Parliament voted to end offshore gas and oil extraction. The Danish minister of climate, energy and utilities, along with Costa Rica’s minister of environment and energy, subsequently published an op-ed calling for other countries to follow their lead in ending oil and gas expansion and contribute to a just transition. Costa Rica also became the first country to include limits to fossil fuel production in its NDC when it recently submitted its update.

Though these measures are encouraging, the “production gap” remains large and much future work is needed to ensure countries work together to close it. Next year’s report will include a broader assessment of the production gap, including the country profiles that were a centrepiece of the 2019 report.

Strategy in action

Priority for change

Transitions from fossil energy that address inequality, poverty and political economy

The 2020 PGR focused on enabling transitions from fossil energy that address inequality, poverty and politics. It identifies quantitatively and qualitatively the extent of the challenge with regard to fossil fuel supply and provides clear policy recommendations on how to enable such transitions. It also places particular emphasis on what is implied by a just transition, both within countries with different capacities and levels of fossil-fuel dependence, and between countries from the perspective of global cooperation.

Types of outcome

Changing agendas (1), Improving decisions (2)

The main aim of the Production Gap Report 2020 is to change the agenda on climate, energy and development policy, so that governments align their fossil fuel production plans with agreed climate goals. The report achieves this by highlighting the discrepancy between the extent of fossil fuel production that governments are planning, and the levels consistent with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Delivering on our priorities