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Oil & Gas

UN chief demands net-zero 10-year ‘fast forward’ after new climate warning

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said a major new climate report represents “a survival guide for humanity” as he called for a global push to support the growth of renewables, halt new oil and gas activity and accelerate net-zero ambitions by 10 years.

On the day that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unveiled its Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report, with a sombre message on global warming and key recommendations over how to get the fight against it back on track, Guterres called for a G20 Climate Solidarity Pact to boost climate efforts.

Guterres wants to see developed economies “hit the fast-forward button” on 2050 net-zero ambitions and achieve it as close as possible to 2040, describing this a limit they should all respect.

“This can be done. Some have already set a target as early as 2035,” he claimed, adding that emerging economies should aim for 2050.

The climate report said global warming is “more likely than not” to reach a tipping point threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and found that the risk has increased since the IPCC’s last such assessment in 2014.

To stay within this 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak before 2025 and fall by 60%, the report said.

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The IPCC said some regions had already reached the “limits” of what they could adapt to.

Guterres fired off a list of policy moves he said are needed for an Acceleration Agenda to underpin a “quantum leap in climate action”, including:

  • Net-zero power generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world.
  • Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas, in line with earlier recommendations by the International Energy Agency.
  • Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.
  • No new coal and phasing out of coal by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 elsewhere.
  • Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition.
  • Establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.

The IPCC report did not include carbon capture and storage as a mitigation technology for fossil fuels as a recommended path forward for dealing with emissions, despite reports of strong lobbying for inclusion by representatives of big oil producing nations.

Guterres’ comments followed the publication of the IPCC’s Synthesis Report, a distillation of scientific thinking on climate change that is published every six or seven years, and will play a key role in informing debate at this year’s COP28 climate summit.

He said the report shows a “fact-based, science-grounded way out of the climate mess” and is a “survival guide for humanity”.

He added: “We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge — but we must move into warp-speed climate action now.”

Oil CEOs challenged

The report comes amid concerns about a resurgence in oil and gas-related investments as a response to the energy security concerns that shot up the global agenda following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Analysts have noticed that big oil and gas companies are making newly confident statements about the role of natural gas during the energy transition and the financial underpinning afforded by their core activities.

The shift is particularly prominent among European majors, several of which were enthusing about a future in renewable energies before the Ukraine war sent commodity prices soaring. These companies are still talking about reducing the emissions associated with oil and gas production, but interest in standalone renewables projects has waned.

Guterres made a direct challenge to oil and gas chief executives to “be part of the solution. They should present credible, comprehensive and detailed transition plans in line with the recommendations of my High-Level Expert Group on net-zero pledges”.

“These plans must clearly detail actual emission cuts for 2025 and 2030, and efforts to change business models to phase out fossil fuels and scale up renewable energy,” he said.

While advocating more leeway for developing nations, Guterres also appealed against a growing tendency among world leaders to argue that others should take the blame or assume the responsibility for climate change.

“Demanding that others move first only ensures that humanity comes last,” he said.

Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and former co-chair of one of the IPCC’s working group, said: “The IPCC’s sixth synthesis report shows that we can still meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit if we act quickly now and permanently reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors.”

He added that this would require supporting carbon dioxide removal technologies where deployment is associated with “moderate economic costs”.

Edenhofer said the rise in emissions worldwide is levelling off somewhat, but not yet falling.

“There is also good news,” Edenhofer noted. “The report shows that in certain world regions a decoupling of CO2 emissions and economic growth is just beginning, that is, that a high quality of life is also achievable with low emissions.”

(A version of this article first appeared in Upstream’s renewables sister publication, Recharge, on 20 March 2023)

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