Production Gap Highlights Hypocrisy of International Plans

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – In an attempt to assess the outlook for fossil fuel production, several organisations have come together to publish the Production Gap 2019 Report. The report, produced by a partnership between SEI, IISD, ODI, Climate Analytics, CICERO and the UNEP, finds that governments are planning to emit considerably more CO2 than planned. By 2030, the study estimates fossil fuel production will be about 50% and 120% higher than consistent with limiting warming to 2°C and 1.5°C, respectively.


    The report follows a similar approach to that of the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report. Using publicly available data, it is possible to estimate the difference between what countries are planning and what would be consistent with 1.5°C and 2°C pathways agreed in 2015. The report uses the scenarios from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C as the basis of its analysis.

    The analysis focuses on production plans, outlooks, and support mechanisms in ten key countries. Coverage of focuses on China, the United States, Russia, India, Australia, Indonesia, and Canada. These are the top seven top fossil fuel producers. However, the report also considers Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom, three significant producers with strongly stated climate ambitions.

    What Needs to be Done

    The report argues that governments need to start considering new models for the production gap. While many of the reforms have focused on demand-side reforms aimed at supporting renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other low-carbon technologies supply-side measures limiting the production of fossil fuel should also be considered.

    Policy-makers can use subsidies and regulation to align their fossil fuel development plans and policies with climate goals. The report also mentions that direct government provision of goods and services and measures to enhance information and transparency would contribute to achieving sustainable global warming pathways.

    Such supply-side constraints have been implemented in some countries. Belize, Costa Rica, France, Denmark, and New Zealand have imposed partial or total bans or moratoria on oil and gas exploration and extraction. Germany and Spain are phasing out coal extraction. Private sector contributions are also meaningful. The notes that individuals and institutions have already pledged to divest over USD 11 trillion from fossil fuel holdings.

    The Gap

    Sadly, aggregate global efforts are just not sufficient. As they stand, the report estimates that countries’ planned fossil fuel production by 2030 will lead to the total emission of 39 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide (GtCO2). That is 13 GtCO2, or 53%, more than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway, and 21 GtCO2 (120%) more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.

    This gap is largest for coal, of which countries plan to produce 150% (5.2 billion tonnes) more than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway, and 280% (6.4 billion tonnes) more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway, by 2030. However, as countries continue to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure that locks in oil and gas use, those two sources of pollution are also on track to exceed carbon budgets.

    The report highlights the inefficiencies of myopic and isolationist planning. Many countries expect demand from export markets to drive significant increases in production (e.g., the United States, Russia, and Canada). However, others hope to limit or end imports through scaled-up production (e.g., India and China). The net result would most likely lead to over-investment and lock the planet into a higher emissions path.

    Another danger with these investments is that their effect accumulates over time. The report estimates countries will producing 43% (36 million barrels per day) more oil and 47% (1,800 billion cubic meters) more gas by 2040 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway.

    Commenting on the report’s disparaging findings, Sajsa Beslik, Managing Director and Head of Sustainable Finance Development at Bank J. Safra Sarasin in Zurich said: “This is why Greta Thunberg is upset….and she is right. You read this, and it makes you cry.”

    Image by Ralf Vetterle from Pixabay

    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe Albuquerque
    Filipe is an economist with 8 years of experience in macroeconomic and financial analysis for the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, the Stockholm School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. Filipe holds a MSc in European Political Economy from the LSE and a MSc in Economics from the University of London, where he currently is a PhD candidate.

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