A startling new study finds that the world has a 50% chance of meeting the Paris Accords if a vast majority of fossil fuels are left un-extracted and for all countries to peak carbon production now. 

Nearly 60% of oil and fossil methane gas, and 90% of coal must remain in the ground and untouched to have a 50% chance of keeping global warming below 1.5C pre-industrial levels as agreed in the Paris Accords, according to a recent study published in the journal, Nature. 

Based on close analysis of global energy supply and demand, scientists say that oil and gas production must drop globally by at least 3% every year between now and 2050, meaning carbon intensive countries including China and India must reach peak production now or during the next decade. 

China has already pledged to peak carbon production by 2030 and achieve net-zero emission by 2060 – a timeline many have argued to be much too slow. India on the other hand, has been resistant in making a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and suspending coal power generation. Instead, the country argues that responsibility for carbon-reducing efforts should rest on the shoulders of high-income countries or based on per-capita emissions. Likewise, big emitters like Mexico and South Africa have yet to reach their carbon peaks. 

The study also warns of “huge transition risks” for countries whose economies are heavily dependent on oil and gas production, particularly those geographically located in the Middle East. 

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The researchers from the University College of London claim that the “bleak picture painted” by the study is very likely an underestimate of what the global fossil fuel industry is required to do to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. There’s an over 50% probability that more than the suggested amount of carbon sources must stay in the ground. There are many uncertainties surrounding negative emission technologies such as carbon capture and storage plants that can be deployed in time, or other factors such as Earth’s feedback loops

This means more carbon must stay underground and fossil fuel production would be to be slashed at an even more aggressive rate. 

Even with the recent downturn in fossil fuel demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic  have allowed governments to consider or begin shifting strategies, there needs to be far greater action to phase out fossil fuels. Domestic policy measures are required to restrict production and subsidies, reduce demand by focusing on carbon pricing, taxation and regulations to curtail countries’ reliance on fossil fuels. 

Ahead of the critical UN climate change summit taking place in Glasgow in November, the researchers hope to highlight the need for development of international initiatives, such as the proposed non-proliferation treaty on fossil fuels as a key to fostering global action.