Global mean surface temperatures reached 1.2°C above the pre-industrial average in 2020, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in its recent report that Earth could hit 1.5°C in as little as a decade.
The 0.3°C separating these two temperatures make a world of difference. Scientists believe that stabilising our warming world’s temperature at 1.5°C could help avoid the most serious effects of climate change.
Fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are the source of just over 80% of the world’s energy. Burning them accounts for 89% of human-derived CO₂ emissions. To avert catastrophic warming, the global community must rapidly reduce how much of these fuels it extracts and burns. Our new paper, published in Nature, revealed just how tight the world’s remaining carbon budget is likely to be.
In order to hold global warming at 1.5°C, we found that nearly 60% of global oil and fossil gas reserves will need to remain in the ground in 2050. Almost all of the world’s coal – 90% – will need to be spared from factory and power plant furnaces. Our analysis also showed that global oil and gas production must peak immediately and fall by 3% each year until mid-century.
Even meeting these stringent limits may not be enough on its own to stabilise global warming at 1.5°C, however.