22 September 2016

Stephen Kretzmann, steve [at] priceofoil [dot] org
Greg Muttitt, greg [at] priceofoil [dot] org

USA: David Turnbull, david [at] priceofoil [dot] org

Fossil Fuel Expansion Has Reached the Sky’s Limit: Report

The embedded carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating fields and mines, if they run to the end of their projected lifetimes, will take us just beyond the Paris Agreement’s 2?C warming limit, and even further from the goal of 1.5?C, a new study has found.

The study scientifically grounds the growing movement to keep carbon in the ground by stopping all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion.

The analysis, “The Sky’s Limit,” was released today by Oil Change International, the day after world leaders from over 30 countries gathered in New York to ratifiy the Paris Agreement, speeding up its now-certain entry into force.

It focuses on the potential carbon emissions from developed reserves – where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed. The report uses industry data from Rystad Energy, a leading oil and gas consultancy, and compares it against carbon budgets derived from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Developed reserves of oil and gas alone, even if coal were phased out immediately, would take the world beyond 1.5°C.

“If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International. “The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline – today – to break through the sky’s limit.”

Report author Greg Muttitt, also of Oil Change International, noted that while previous studies on carbon budgets have focused on the burning of fossil fuels, this analysis focused on what these budgets mean for the supply of fossil fuels in the first place. It is the first time a study has looked at current fossil fuel extraction operations and made the logical conclusions based on climate science.

“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”

“It is not too late. It’s still possible to go another way.” said Muttitt. “With a properly managed decline of the industry, we can replace the fossil fuels with renewables quickly enough to meet our energy needs and climate goals. Perhaps more importantly, we can do so in a way that protects workers, communities and the climate.”

The first, and most important step, the report notes, is to stop any new development. Projected investment in new fields, mines, and transportation infrastructure such as pipelines over the next 20 years is $14 trillion –a lethal capital injection.

The report lists examples some of the biggest projects around the world that cannot go ahead – in the US, Canada, Australia, India, Russia, Qatar and Iran.

Governments would need to make hard choices about the phase-out of existing projects and, the report recommends, this should start in the developed world.

“There are only three possibilities here,” said Muttitt. “We can manage the decline of our existing fields, shifting to clean energy and redeploying workers. Or we continue to develop new reserves that then have to be shut down suddenly, stranding assets, costing investors, and causing havoc in fossil fuel extraction dependent communities. Or we just carry on as we are – and wreak economic, ecological and human catastrophe on the world.”

“Continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry is now quite clearly and quantifiably climate denial” said Kretzmann. “Subsidizing or permitting or profiting off of the expansion of the fossil fuel industry is now clearly the moral equivalent of selling cigarettes in a cancer ward.”

The report can be read at


Additional quotes from partner organizations in support of the report:

“This report shows that the fossil fuel industry’s business plan is a threat to a livable planet and the lives of people already facing the impacts of climate change,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of “Our institutions must heed this warning and divest from this industry. And if our leaders are serious about keeping their promises made in the Paris Agreement, they now have to say ‘no’ to every new fossil fuel infrastructure project that comes across their desk. That carbon must be kept in the ground.” (Press contact: Dani Heffernan,, +1-305-992-1544)

“The Paris Agreement was like a breakthrough at a rehab centre. World leaders admitted for the first time they had a fossil fuel addiction problem and would clean up their act. The question now is will they stick to this new path or will they fail at the first difficult decision,” said Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s Senior Climate Advisor. “Like a junkie coming off drugs they need to actually wean themselves off the damaging substance. Their attitude to fossil fuel exploration will reveal if they were telling the truth with their Paris Agreement promises.” (Press contact: Joe Ware,, +44 (0)207 523 2418)

“The evidence is clear: to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need our political and financial leaders to stop any further fossil fuel development and start scaling back. This means no new pipelines, no new federal leases, and certainly no financing of new fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Amanda Starbuck, Climate & Energy Program Director, Rainforest Action Network. (Press contact: Virali Modi-Parekh,, +1-510-747-8476)


Click here for a French version of this release.