A report, by the fossil fuel watchdog Oil Change International (OCI), in partnership with 14 other environmental organizations, ‘The Sky's Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production’ (pdf), calculates the potential carbon emissions for already developed reserves and transportation projects, such as oil wells, tar pits, pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and exports terminals. The findings are bleak: "The potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world's currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming," the study confirms. "The reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C." The researchers state unequivocally, "No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them."
Campaigner Bill McKibben wrote, "If our goal is to keep the Earth's temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here's the answer: zero." McKibben estimates that the world has 17 years to replace current fossil fuel infrastructure with renewable energy. "That's enough time—maybe—to replace gas guzzlers with electric cars. To retrain pipeline workers and coal miners to build solar panels and wind turbines."
Report author Greg Muttitt explained, "Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product—the fossil fuels—are extracted and burned. These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling," he said. "This is how carbon gets 'locked-in.'" In short, even if a government says it wants to reduce the use of fossil fuels, as long as it keeps approving new infrastructure, carbon will be emitted.
In the United States alone, the existing mines and oil wells and gas fields contain 86 billion tons of carbon emissions—enough to take us 25 percent of the way to a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. But if the U.S. energy industry gets its way and develops all the oil wells and fracking sites that are currently planned, that would add another 51 billion tons in carbon emissions. And if we let that happen, America would single-handedly blow almost 40 percent of the world's carbon budget.
"If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry," said OCI executive director Stephen Kretzmann. "The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline—today—to break through the sky's limit."