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Climate Change

Most fossil fuels must remain in the ground to meet Paris Agreement goals, researchers say

by Cheryl Hogue
September 10, 2021

Photo shows two workers in hard hats and safety vests facing heavy equipment extracting coal in an open pit.
Credit: Shutterstock
Most of the world's coal reserves need to remain unextracted to meet internationally agreed upon climate change goals, researchers say.

Most of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels must remain untapped if the world is to restrain global warming to 1.5 °C over preindustrial levels by the end of the century, researchers from University College London conclude (Nature 2021, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03821-8). When burned, these fuels release the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, contributing to human-caused climate change. The researchers used computer modeling to determine the amount of 2018 reserves that would need to be left in the ground to reach a 50% chance of meeting the 1.5 °C target called for in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. They calculate that 89% of coal, 58% of oil, and 59% of fossil methane reserves must remain in the ground by 2050 for the world to have a 50-50 chance of meeting this policy goal. According to their model, the majority of fossil fuels extracted after 2050 would be used as feedstocks in the petrochemical industry, with some oil going to the aviation sector for fuel.


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