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Day 4 Blog: COP 22 - University of Reading Perspective

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fossil fuels supply and climate policy

Given that fossil fuels are responsible for approximately 85% of anthropogenic CO2emissions (IPCC), reducing their supply and production is one of the biggest challenges in the effort to avoid dangerous climate change and limit global warming to 2C.

One side event at COP22 was focused on the best ways to reduce fossil fuel supply and production. The event “Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy: key steps to enhance ambition” brought together key speakers from organisations such as the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Oil Change International (OCI), the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and several universities. Below are some of the most interesting facts and figures that we learnt from the talk.

Key facts / figures:

  • 2/3 of known oil and gas reserves need to be left undeveloped to keep emissions in line with the 20C warming pathway
  • The US has biggest undeveloped reserves of coal and oil in the world
  • The Norwegian State funds 78% of exploration costs for Arctic Oil (despite recommendations that the resources should be left in ground to limit warming to 20C)
  • To be consistent with the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C, the U.S. would need to cut aggregate fossil fuel production by 40–60% from current levels by 2040
  • Between 2012 – 2015 157 Gt of CO2 were emitted. If we were to continue emitting at this rate, within 15 years we would exceed the threshold of CO2 in the atmosphere that would make a 2°C warming inevitable
  • The table below gives CO2 budgets (in gigatonnes) for emissions that cannot be exceeded if we are to limit temperature rise to 2°C, or more ambitiously 1.5°C
Carbon Budgets (GtC02) 20C 1.50C
Post 2011 budget 1000 550
Emission 2012-15 157 157
Post 2015 budget 843 392
  • Data from Oil Change International

The main topic of conversation during the panel was potential ways in which we can limit temperature increase to 20C. We identified four key themes throughout the talk; removing producer subsidies, providing compensation for ‘keeping it in the ground’, removing funding / investments for fossil fuel explorations and imposing moratoria on coal mines and oil drilling.

One of the speakers at the talk was Katie Thomas, Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment at the office for Bernie Sanders, who we had the privilege of interviewing afterwards. Katie’s key roles include monitoring bills in the Senate and Congress, writing legislation, writing questions for the Senator to ask and advising the Senator on how to vote. One particular success she highlighted was legislation banning fracking in Vermont, although she did compare this to banning snow-boarding in Saudi Arabia.


As an alternative to fossil fuels, Katie believes that “electrifying cities” is the solution to the fossil fuel problem (providing the electricity comes from renewables obviously). For example, she mentioned electric school buses funded by Vermont which have the potential to be solar powered. Although one of the issues with this is the storage of electricity for use at peak times.

When asked if she thought climate research is communicated effectively her response was a decisive “no”. She suggested that in order to most effectively communicate scientific research we need researchers to partner with communication and advocacy organisations who are experienced in communicating with the public.

Katie’s passion, and positivity, stood out during her talk and during our interview and it was of real benefit for us to chat with her about all things environmental, political and societal. The outlook wasn’t all doom and gloom, with Katie positively reassuring us that “more and more people are starting to believe in this thing called science…”


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