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OPINION | Nearly half of recent climate pledges plan to keep extracting fossil fuels


According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the production and use of fossil fuels must be “greatly reduced” to keep warming below 1.5C.

While countries have so far failed to agree on a collective goal to phase fossil fuels “down” or “out”, the Paris Agreement gives individual nations space to plot their own path.

In a new study, published by the Stockholm Environment Institute, my colleagues and I explore how countries discuss fossil fuel production in their official Paris climate pledges.

We found that more and more countries are discussing the production of fossil fuels in their “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs).

The topic is mentioned in two-thirds of fossil fuel-producing countries’ second-round NDCs, an increase on the first iteration, highlighting the increased discussion around the topic.

But we observe that while a few countries are reporting on measures to phase out fossil fuel production, nearly half of second-round NDCs included plans to maintain or even increase fossil fuel production.

Here, we take a closer look at the growing discussion of fossil fuel production in NDCs and “long-term low emissions development strategies” (LT-LEDS), the significance of their inclusion and how governments could build in targets and pathways for winding down production as we look to the next NDC cycle. 

A global stocktake

To meet climate goals, the production of coal, oil and gas needs to be wound down.

Although the Paris Agreement does not directly mention fossil fuel extraction, its bottom-up architecture means that countries could place a significant policy focus on fossil fuel production if they so choose.

An assessment of NDCs and LT-LEDS forms part of the “global stocktake” of efforts to meet the decarbonisation goals agreed in the Paris Agreement and, therefore, can provide an insight into efforts to move away from fossil fuel production in climate plans.

Within the analysis, we looked at 103 first-round NDCs (those published between 2015-19), 95 second-round NDCs (2019-March 2023) and 31 LT-LEDS belonging to fossil fuel producing countries. 

Additionally, we looked at 65 first-round NDCs, 48 second-round NDCs and 19 LT-LEDS submitted by countries that do not produce fossil fuels.

To assess how the documents discussed the production of fossil fuels, we broke it down into five categories:

  1. background information;
  2. winding down or phasing out production;
  3. continuing or increasing production;
  4. transition planning;
  5. equity, international support, and cooperation

Targeting fossil fuel reduction’ work 

We found that a small number of countries have explicit commitments, policies or pathways to reduce or end fossil fuels in their NDCs or LT-LEDS: two first-round NDCs, five second-round NDCs and 15 LT-LEDS. For instanceFrance’s LT-LEDS include its policy to end fossil fuel production by 2040.

Overall, only two countries discuss targets or policies designed to restrict or wind down fossil fuel production in their first-round NDCs, illustrated by the mid-green sliver in the second column from the top of the chart below. This rises to five in second-round NDCs (dark green) and 13 in LT-LEDS (light green).

Others – as shown in the first set of bars – do not include active policies, but, rather, quietly acknowledge the reality that their fossil fuel production will decrease. Australia is in this camp, for instance. Its LT-LEDS, while pledging to continue producing fossil fuels for as long as the world needs them, predicts that production will be 35% lower in 2050 than in 2020 due to changes in global demand.

However, a much larger number of countries plan to increase fossil fuel production, or indicate that they will maintain current levels: 35 first-round NDCs, 45 second-round NDCs, and 13 LT-LEDS . This is illustrated in the second set of bars in the figure below (“continuing or increasing production”).

In total, we found that a third of first-round NDCs include plans to continue or increase fossil fuel production, nearly half of second-round NDCs (46%) and more than a third of LT-LEDS.

In particular, this increase within the second-round of NDCs is notable, with 15 new countries including the continuation or expansion of fossil fuel production in their second-round NDCs, while only three have dropped the reference in the second iteration.

Indeed, two countries that do not currently produce oil and gas – Lebanon and Senegal – expressed intent to begin in their second-round NDC.

For a detailed version of this story, read it here.

Dr Natalie Jones, is a policy advisor in the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s (IISD) Energy Program.

This story was first published by CARBON BRIEF

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