Approaching the Point of No Return: The World's Dirtiest Megaprojects We Must Avoid

Canada's tar sands are one of 14 energy megaprojects that are "in direct conflict with a livable climate."

According to a new report released today by Greenpeace, the fossil fuel industry has plans for 14 new coal, oil and gas projects that will dangerously increase global warming emissions at a time when massive widespread reductions are necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. In conjunction these projects make it very likely global temperature rise will increase beyond the 2 degrees Celsius threshold established by the international community to levels as high as 4 or even 6 degrees.

"The disasters the world is experiencing now are happening at a time when the average global temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and they are just a taste of our future if greenhouse gas emissions continue to balloon," the report states.

The report, "The Point of No Return: The Massive Climate Threats We Must Avoid," [PDF] emphasizes the urgent need to move beyond dirty energy if we are to avert catastrophic global warming and includes research provided by Ecofrys, a consulting firm specializing in sustainable energy and climate policy.

The research focuses on 14 megaprojects slated to produce as much new carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 alone as the United States produces in an entire year. Together these projects would add 300 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere by 2050, through the "extraction, production and burning of 49,600 million tonnes of coal, 29,400 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 260,000 million barrels of oil." By 2020, these projects would increase global CO2 emissions by 20 percent, placing the world on the path of a 5 or 6 degree Celsius temperature rise.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global emissions increased by 5 percent in 2010 and 3 percent in 2011, right on track for a 5 or 6 degree long term warming. What will guarantee that level of warming is the continued construction of dirty energy projects. What could mitigate the dangerously high temperature rise is the halt of such projects in the next five years.

The Filthy Fourteen

The world's largest and dirtiest energy projects include coal production in Australia, China, the U.S., and Indonesia, oil production in Canada's tar sands, the Arctic, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq, and Venezuela's tar sands, and gas production in the U.S., Kazakhstan, Africa, and the Caspian Sea.

The Impacts

Ecofys estimates that a business-as-usual approach to energy production would entail "a clear scenario for climate disaster with a 5-6 degree celsius increase in average global temperature." An alternative scenario would involve a carbon budget designed to keep the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees.

"To stay within this carbon budget," according to Ecofrys, "cumulative emissions between 2010 and 2050 cannot exceed 1,050 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (Gt CO2e), and global emissions need to start decreasing at the very latest by 2016." Cumulative emissions associated with the 14 megaprojects are estimated to be 2,340Gt CO2e, far beyond the acceptable rate if any progress is to be made to avoid "climate chaos."

The report states "the problem is that investment in energy infrastructure for fossil fuels locks the world into using coal, oil and gas for decades. The IEA estimates that 590 Gt CO2 is already locked in by existing fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure, and building new coal, oil and gas based infrastructure must stop by 2017 to avoid locking in more emissions than can be emitted without overshooting 2 degrees celsius warming."

"After that, the only way to stay below 2 degrees celsius warming is to shut down the many new coal, oil and gas power plants and the new coal mines and oil operations that could be operating, making the task of meeting the target hugely expensive and politically difficult."

The 14 projects would bind us to new carbon intensive investments, further entrenching the problem of fossil fuel reliance within the global economy. The solution, as recommended by Ecofrys, is to make a quick and committed switch to clean energy projects which would "provide almost one third of the reduction needed to have a 75 percent chance of avoiding climate chaos."

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