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Study: Paris Climate Agreement targets require unprecedented fossil fuel cuts

By Jake Thomas
Study: Paris Climate Agreement targets require unprecedented fossil fuel cuts
A new study found that Asian countries will need to reduce their use of coal by an unprecedented rate to meet the Paris Climate Agreement's targets. Coal trucks wait their turn to deliver their payloads to the Lu'an Coal to Oil Project in Changzhi, China in 2018. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement will require a drop in the use of coal and gas at a rate previously unseen by any large country, a new study has found.

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which includes 196 countries, sets a target of limiting global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) this century. Meeting that goal means a net-zero reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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The study, published in the journal One Earth, examined historical records of previous rapid declines in the use of fossil fuels in 105 countries between 1960 and 2018. Researchers found 147 occasions where the use of coal, oil or natural gas declined by more than 5% over a decade.

The most pronounced decline was when oil was replaced by coal, gas, or nuclear power in the 1970s and the 1980s. Countries made the switch in response to the global oil crisis, discovering domestic fuel reserves and the introduction of nuclear technology.

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Rapid declines in the use of fossil fuels have required competing technologies, motivating security threats and effective government institutions to enact changes Jessica Jewell, an associate professor in energy transitions at Chalmers University in Sweden and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement.

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"We were surprised to find that the use of some fossil fuels, particularly oil, actually declined quite rapidly in the 1970s and the 1980s in Western Europe and other industrialized countries like Japan," Jewell said.

"This is not the time period that is typically associated with energy transitions, but we came to believe that some important lessons can be drawn from there."

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The study also looked at the pledges about 30 countries made to phase out coal power as part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. These pledges will not phase out coal faster than historic declines in fossil fuel use, researchers concluded. Jewell added, "In other words, they plan for largely business as usual."

The study pointed to a particular challenge surrounding the use of coal, particularly in Asia, which has a rapidly growing electricity demand. About half of scenarios where the Paris Climate Agreement's target is met would require an unprecedented or rarely seen transition.

"Fast transitions to low-carbon power sources are needed, yet it is unclear whether historical precedents for such transitions exist," the study said.

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