By Sylvia Chebet
As someone who spends most of his waking hours scientifically tabulating the ravages of human progress, climate change researcher George Mwaniki is used to grim tidings.
But the latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report is a tad hard to digest even for a hardened climate warrior like him.
The report shows that the production of fossil fuels by 2030 will be more than double the limit required to keep global warming within the internationally agreed goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
“This is a case of doublespeak," Mwaniki tells TRT Afrika.
"Countries have a strong indicative commitment outlined in their NDCs (nationally determined contributions), but when it comes to national planning and budgeting, their non-commitment to reducing emission becomes clear," he says, echoing UN secretary-general António Guterres' sentiments.
Countries with fossil fuel-driven economies lag the most in compliance with pre-defined norms.
In his remarks accompanying the report, Guterres mentions that the 2023 Production Gap Report is "a startling indictment of runaway climate carelessness".
The report, headlined "Phasing down or phasing up? Top fossil fuel producers plan even more extraction despite climate promises”, reveals that governments plan to produce around 110% more fossil fuels in 2030 than the amount that would be consistent with limiting global warming.
Scientists warn this is necessary to avert the severe impact of climate change, such as increasing extreme weather events.
The Production Gap Report provides newly expanded profiles for major fossil-fuel-producing countries.
These are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, India, the UK, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the UAE, Northern Ireland, and the US.
The size of the list indicates that most governments continue to provide significant policy and financial support to fossil fuel production.
"There is a saying, 'Don't tell me what you care about, show me'. On the climate change debate, I think we have seen exactly what countries care about, and reducing emissions is only an option rather than a priority," rues Mwaniki.
In 2022, the Brazilian oil and gas company Petrobras had 68 places off the South American coast staked out for oil exploration. The search for new reserves supplemented US $6.9 billion worth of spending on oil development projects.
At about the same time, Algeria-based Sonatrach proclaimed its ambition to ramp up production to become a "top-five national oil company" by 2030.
All these companies, along with 33 others focused on oil and gas, sent delegations to Egypt for last year's annual climate summit, COP27, aimed at weaning the world off burning fossil fuels like oil and gas.
Many will likely be at the upcoming conference, COP28, hosted by the UAE, which has appointed Sultan al-Jaber, as president of the summit.
Acknowledging that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is integral to saving the planet, al-Jaber says, "That is our North Star. It is our only destination. It is simply acknowledging and respecting the science."
Way off the mark
The harsh reality is that many governments plan to increase global coal production until 2030, while worldwide oil and gas production will continue growing till at least 2050.
"In other words, governments are doubling down on fossil fuel production; that spells double trouble for people and the planet," warns UN chief Guterres.
The hike in fuel extraction comes despite 151 national governments having pledged to achieve net-zero emissions.
"We cannot address climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence. COP28 must signal that the fossil fuel age is out of gas — that its end is inevitable. We need credible commitments to ramp up renewables, phase out fossil fuels, and boost energy efficiency while ensuring a just, equitable transition," says Guterres.
Al-Jaber agrees that "a phase-down" of fossil fuels is inevitable. "It's essential... Yet, this must be part of a comprehensive energy transition plan that is fair, fast, just, orderly, equitable and responsible," he argues.
Renewable energy production is, however, still far below the levels required to meet the energy needs of the world's growing population. Industry players reckon it is necessary to continue producing oil and gas "for the foreseeable future", partly to avoid global shocks.
Most of their investments running into billions of dollars are in further oil exploration, extraction and refining — with plans laid out in some cases for several decades. That's long beyond when scientists say the world must move away from fossil fuels.
On the other hand, they have little to no investments in green energy, considered a human rights obligation under the Paris Agreement.
Climate change impacts the rights to life, health, food, water, culture, and a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Marginalised communities and Indigenous people are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events, which is expected to worsen with an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of more fossil fuels.
Despite clear evidence that burning fuels like coal emits significant amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, what are the odds that oil and gas companies will turn their backs on hefty profits to venture into green energy production?
"It is important to start appreciating that the world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement," Mwaniki tells TRT Afrika.
"We should be making plans to deal with worse climate impact given the fact that this is becoming our new normal."