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Unburnable Fuel. High time for a new European policy approach to tackle climate change

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Exploring and exploiting new sources of fossil fuels will propel CO2 emissions above 550 ppm. It is an irresponsible waste of money, and policy is called upon to stop this squandering of resources. At 550 ppm CO2 (twice the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm CO2), mean global temperatures will rise 3°C, with a risk of rising by 4°C and more. This would imply sea level rise of about 25 metres +/- 12 metres due to ice melting.

Total proven international fossil-fuel reserves already contain about 3 times as much carbon as what we can burn and still have a reasonable chance to stay below the internationally agreed 2°C target. That’s why there is no ethical, environmental or social justification for mobilising reserves with above-average environmental and social impacts, including deep sea oil, tar sands, or fracking for shale gas, destroying riverine delta ecosystems and other wetlands, densely populated farmland, biodiverse forests or coral gardens.

Our policy recommendations and questions to policymakers are:

  • EU governments should urgently revise their mining laws to rule out any further exploration for fossil fuels on their territories and marine zones, and start negotiations for a global ban on fossil fuel exploration

  • Which one third of proven reserves shall we consume, and which are the two thirds to be left in the ground?
  • Capping the carbon input would complement existing policies and enhance their effectiveness

  • Energy companies, private and public, should be obliged to disclose the carbon content in their reserves as a basis for distinguishing burnable from unburnable fuel
  • Initiatives for ‘leaving oil in the soil’ at socially and environmentally vulnerable reserve locations should be supported politically and financially as a first step towards establishing an inventory of ‘unburnable reserves’
  • The Ecuadorian Yasuni ITT area deserves immediate support
  • As an immediate measure, the EU should consider a fund for contributing to such initiatives

Read more in the 4 page EJOLT briefing on Unburnable fuel

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