The Sky's Limit: Why the Paris Climate Goals Require a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production

In December 2015, world governments agreed to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, and to strive to limit it to 1.5°C. This report examines, for the first time, the implications of these climate boundaries for energy production and use. Our key findings are:

  • 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 reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.
  • With the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.

One of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging for more fossil fuels. We therefore recommend:

  • No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.
  • Some fields and mines – primarily in rich countries – should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.
  • This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.

In August 2015, just months before the Paris climate talks, President Anote Tong of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati called for an end to construction of new coal mines and coal mine expansions. This report expands his call to all fossil fuels.