Governments wishing to eke out their domestic oil
supplies are increasingly encouraging 'unconventional' fossil fuel
exploration, as new technology allows companies to access difficult
to reach resources. But such policies sit uneasily with climate
In 1992, countries signed up to United Nations Framework on
Climate Change, pledging to try and prevent the world warming by
more than two
degrees above pre-industrial levels. That means
significantly curbing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the
But many governments that agreed to the goal continue to
implement policies which encourage oil extraction. A new
paper by two University College London professors,
Christophe McGlade and Paul Ekins, suggests that's a problem,
because extracting and burning oil emits a lot of greenhouse gases,
with unconventional sources usually emitting the most.
McGlade and Ekins estimate around 600 billion barrels - or 45
per cent - of the world's known oil reserves will have to remain
unused, if the world wants to have a better than even chance of
keeping warming below two degrees.
Estimates of how much of the planet's oil may eventually be
extracted are gradually
increasing as companies develop technology which lets them
tap harder to reach wells.
McGlade and Ekins say such practices are "simply incompatible"
with limiting global temperature rises, however. The researchers
modelled oil production across the world for the next 20 years, and
worked out how emissions from the extraction process and burning
oil sat within a 'budget' that would let the planet limit global
warming to two degrees.