New study maps oil reserves to remain unburned to meet 1.5C climate threshold

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  • To keep global warming below 1.5C, we need to cut down on releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. A study led by researchers from the International Institute of Social Studies , part of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and the University of Barcelona (UB) suggests that we should avoid using most of the coal, gas and oil resources worldwide.

    This research introduces an ’atlas’ showing which oil reserves are best left untouched to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to lessen the effects of climate change. The article in Nature Communications is co-authored by ISS professors Lorenzo Pellegrini and Murat Arsel.

    Mapping global oil exclusion zones

    The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to below 2C and, ideally, to 1.5C. Following the agreement’s aims, the study suggests policy recommendations for better management of energy resources while protecting the environment and society. The study, led by professors Lorenzo Pellegrini (ISS) and Mart Orta-Martnez (UB), highlights areas like protected natural regions, biodiversity hotspots, and territories inhabited by indigenous peoples as places where oil extraction should be avoided. However, even if we refrain from extracting oil from these sensitive areas, it won’t be enough to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

    According to ISS Professor Lorenzo Pellegrini, ’we are on course to extract oil in quantities that are incompatible to limit climate change to 1.5C.’ However, ’excluding areas with significant socio-ecological importance, such as biodiversity hotspots and areas with indigenous people in voluntary isolation from oil operations, would produce a range of additional advantages from climate policy,’ Professor Pellegrini states.

    The research suggests that to prevent severe climate consequences, we must limit global warming to 1.5C. This effort requires preventing events like permafrost melting or Arctic ice loss, which could lead to irreversible changes in the climate system. ’Abandoning oil extraction and further exploration in ecologically significant areas is a necessary but insufficient way to limit global climate change to 1.5C,’ says ISS Professor Murat Arsel. ’This imperative highlights that climate mitigation is not merely an environmental or economic exercise, but one of environmental justice and socio-economic equity.’

    From the exploitation of fossil fuels to conservation

    The study also discusses the remaining carbon budget, which is the amount of CO2 emissions we can afford to release to stay within the 1.5C limit. At current emission rates, this budget will be exhausted by 2028. Burning all known fossil fuel reserves would exceed this budget by a considerable margin.

    To stay within the 1.5C limit, we need to stop exploring new fossil fuel reserves, halt the development of existing ones, and shut down a large portion of current extraction projects. The authors emphasize the urgent need for action from governments, businesses and individuals to transition to cleaner energy sources and stop investing in fossil fuels. They also call for massive investments in renewable energy and strict regulations to limit fossil fuel use.

    The article is open-access and available now for reading and download.

  • International Institute of Social Studies


  • International Institute of Social Studies


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