The UN's Production Gap Report notes that countries are planning and projecting an average annual increase in fossil fuel production of 2% across the next decade

Greenhouse gas emissions

Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Monkeyboy0076)

The world’s governments must wind down fossil fuel production by 6% per year to “limit catastrophic warming”, according to the UN.

Its Production Gap Report, released today (2 December), finds that the COVID-19 recovery marks a “potential turning point”, where countries must “change course” to avoid locking in levels of coal, oil, and gas production far higher than is consistent with a 1.5C limit.

Although the analysis shows that the world needs to decrease production by 6% per year up until 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C, it notes that countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2% across the next decade.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This year’s devastating forest fires, floods, and droughts and other unfolding extreme weather events serve as powerful reminders for why we must succeed in tackling the climate crisis.

“As we seek to reboot economies following the COVID-19 pandemic, investing in low-carbon energy and infrastructure will be good for jobs, for economies, for health, and for clean air.

“Governments must seize the opportunity to direct their economies and energy systems away from fossil fuels, and build back better towards a more just, sustainable, and resilient future.”


UN report finds fossil fuel production gap remains large

The report, which first launched in 2019, measures the gap between the Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of coal, oil, and gas.

It finds that the “production gap” remains large and that countries plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with a 1.5C temperature limit.

This year’s special issue looks at the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – and governments’ stimulus and recovery measures – on coal, oil, and gas production.

The UN said it comes at a potential turning point, as the pandemic prompts unprecedented government action – and as major economies, including China, Japan, and South Korea, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions.

Just Transition Fund fossil fuels
The UN said the largest fossil fuel producers, including Australia, Canada and the US, are currently among those pursuing “major expansions” in fossil fuel supply (Credit:

The report was produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the Overseas Development Institute, E3G, and UNEP.

Dozens of researchers have contributed to the analysis and review, spanning numerous universities and additional research organisations.

Michael Lazarus, a lead author on the report and the director of SEI’s US Center, said: “The research is abundantly clear that we face severe climate disruption if countries continue to produce fossil fuels at current levels, let alone at their planned increases.

“The research is similarly clear on the solution – government policies that decrease both the demand and supply for fossil fuels and support communities currently dependent on them.

“This report offers steps that governments can take today for a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels.”

The analysis shows that between 2020 and the end of the decade, global coal, oil, and gas production would have to decline annually by 11%, 4%, and 3%, respectively, to be consistent with the 1.5C pathway.

It also found that the COVID-19 pandemic – and the “lockdown” measures to halt its spread – have led to short-term drops in coal, oil, and gas production in 2020. But pre-COVID plans and post-COVID stimulus measures point to a continuation of the growing global fossil fuel production gap, risking “severe climate disruption”.

The report said that to date, G20 governments have committed more than $230bn in COVID-19 measures to sectors responsible for fossil fuel production and consumption, which is far more than the $150bn pledged to clean energy. It notes that policymakers “must reverse this trend” to meet the climate goals.


Australia, Canada and the US amongst nations pursuing “major expansions” in fossil fuel supply

The UN’s research also delves into how the world can equitably transition away from fossil fuels, with the most rapid wind-down needed from countries that have “higher financial and institutional capacity and are less dependent on fossil fuel production”.

It said some of the largest fossil fuel producers in this group, including Australia, Canada and the US, are currently among those pursuing “major expansions” in fossil fuel supply.

The report outlines six areas of action, arming policymakers with options to start winding down fossil fuels as they enact COVID-19 recovery plans.

Among other things, it said they can reduce existing government support for fossil fuels, introduce restrictions on production, and ensure stimulus funds go to green investments, while tying any high-carbon support with conditions that promote long-term alignment with the climate goals.

Måns Nilsson, SEI’s executive director, said: “This report shines a light on how government action, in many cases, risks locking us into fossil-fuelled pathways.

“And it lays out the alternative, with solutions and examples for moving beyond coal, oil, and gas production. It’s time to imagine, and plan for, a better future.”