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Production Gap Report Special Issue sees Covid-19 recovery as a potential turning point

The “lockdown” measures to halt the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic have led to short-term drops in coal, oil, and gas production in 2020. But production plans that predate the pandemic as well as stimulus measures to address its economic impacts  all point to a continuation of the growing global fossil fuel production gap.

Emily Yehle, Andrea Lindblom / Published on 2 December 2020

“This report shows without a doubt that the production and use of coal, oil, and gas needs to decrease quickly if we are to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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.”

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The 2020 Special Issue of the annual Production Gap Report focuses on the implications of Covid-19 on the production gap, a metric that measures the discrepancy between countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas and the global levels consistent with Paris Agreement temperature goals.

The pandemic — and the lockdown measures to halt its spread — led to a dip in fossil fuel production this year. But countries’ pre-Covid-19 plans and post-Covid-19 stimulus measures all point to a continuation of the growing global fossil fuel production gap.

Animated infographic showing the gap between countries’ planned levels of fossil fuel production and levels consistent with global warming.

The report finds that the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by 6% per year to limit global warming to 1.5°C. However, countries are in fact planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%. 

Furthermore, G20 governments have to date committed over US$230 billion in Covid-19 measures to sectors responsible for fossil fuel production and consumption, far more than for clean energy (roughly US$150 billion).

“Covid-19 has shaken up energy markets and if we seize this moment, we can make change happen by design. But whilst some countries are showing leadership by removing fossil fuel subsidies and limiting new exploration and extraction, we need to see much more if we are to close the gap between planned fossil fuel production and climate commitments made under the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Chair of the Elders

Identifying policy options

The report outlines six areas of action, arming policymakers with options to start winding down fossil fuels as they enact Covid-19 recovery plans.

Among other things, they can reduce existing government support for fossil fuels, introduce restrictions on production, and ensure stimulus funds go to green investments (while tying any high-carbon support with conditions that promote long-term alignment with climate goals).

Making the transition equitable

The report also delves into how the world can equitably transition away from fossil fuels, with the most rapid wind-down needed from countries that have higher financial and institutional capacity and are less dependent on fossil fuel production. Some of the largest fossil fuel producers in this group, including Australia, Canada and the US, are currently among those pursuing major expansions in fossil fuel supply.

“This report shows the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels in a just and equitable way for all. As governments rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis, a green recovery offers the potential of more and better jobs, and healthier and more resilient societies.”

 Moustapha Kamal Gueye, Coordinator, Green Jobs Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO)

Countries highly dependent on fossil fuels and with limited capacity will need international support to transition equitably, and the report explores ways to facilitate that cooperation.

“Winding down fossil fuel production at a rate in line with Paris goals requires both international cooperation and support,” said SEI Research Fellow Cleo Verkuijl, who is a lead author on the report. “As countries communicate more ambitious climate commitments to the UN climate process ahead of the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, they have the opportunity to incorporate targets and measures to decrease fossil fuel production into these plans, or nationally determined contributions.”

The 2020 report was produced by SEI, the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Overseas Development Institute, E3G and the UN Environment Programme. Dozens of researchers contributed to the analysis and review, spanning numerous universities and additional research organizations.

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