"Carbon Bomb" Projects Could Spell Climate Disaster

"Carbon Bomb" Projects Could Spell Climate Disaster

The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies have 195 new oil and gas projects currently on the docket. An investigation from the Guardian found the consequences of these expansions -- coined "carbon bomb” projects -- will prove catastrophic. Once completed, the global carbon budget will be exceeded, driving warming far beyond the 1.5-degree limit and triggering climate disasters across the globe.

Each new project could emit up to 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide throughout its lifetime -- the equivalent of approximately 18 years of current global emissions. Pumping has already started on 60% of these projects.

Recent profits from high fuel prices alongside continued fossil fuel subsidies are lining the pockets of Big Oil and fueling increased investment in further extraction. Fossil fuel giants expect this profitability to continue. Currently, the dozen biggest companies -- including Shell, Chevron, and BP -- are estimated to spend $103 million daily for the rest of the decade. The majority of this production will take place in the world’s biggest oil-producing countries, including the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, China, and Australia.

Bloomberg: Record Methane Levels Made 2021 5th Hottest Year Since 2000, January 10, 2022.

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 7, 2021.

Why This Matters

An IPCC report published last month stated that cutting emissions must happen "now or never,” while a recent study found that the world’s wealthiest countries must phase out oil and gas production completely by 2034 if warming was to remain under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Even religious leaders have called for a halt on fossil fuel investments as a "moral imperative.” A recent study conducted by World Meteorological Organization found that there is a 50-50 chance of the earth breaking the 1.5-degree Celsius limit. The takeaway: the world is walking a fine line.

Increased emissions and the continued prioritization of profit only exacerbate the consequences already experienced by the most vulnerable. "Only the colonial mindset of political leaders in rich countries can make the brutal calculation that the interest of fossil fuel giants and their billions in profit is more important than the lives of people who are overwhelmingly black, brown, and poor,” said UK climate activist Asad Rehman.

BBC: UN scientists say it's 'now or never' to limit global warming, April 4, 2022.

Robin Hood: "This is Loss and Damage - Who Pays" narrated by Mark Strong, September 23, 2021.

DW: This is just how unfair climate change is, May 21, 2021.

Fracking, Fracking, and More Fracking

Of these planned projects, one-third involve unconventional means of extraction, such as offshore drilling and fracking. These methods compound risks for climate and to people. A recent Harvard study, for example, found a link between air pollution from fracking and senior citizen mortality. The US -- already the world’s largest oil extractor and producing 20% of the global share -- is planning to dramatically expand fracking along the Delaware and Midland basins in the western part of the country.

Cleo Abram: Fracking for Clean Energy. Wait, What?, January 18, 2022.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Why fracking regulations may not adequately protect health, May 28, 2021.

Now This: Families Speak Out On Health Problems Linked to Fracking, March 12, 2021.

The IEA’s Path Forward

In light of the energy crisis and rise in fuel prices triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, governments are desperate for short-term solutions. But as IEA Executive Director Faith Birol emphasized, new oil and gas development is not an answer on any time scale. "I understand some countries may look at new fossil fuels but they should remember it takes many years to start production. [Such projects] are not the solution to our current energy security needs and they will lock in fossil fuel use,” Birol told the Guardian.

Instead, governments should seek to reduce fossil fuel demand -- and now. Unlike during previous oil crises, such as in 1970, the world has an abundance of cheap, clean, reliable backup options for energy -- renewables. According to the IEA, renewable capacity grew a record-setting 6% in 2021, even amidst pandemic supply chain issues. The path to net-zero might be narrow, but it’s not out of the question. COP26 laid some of the groundwork, but global leaders must consider this urgency ahead of COP27. In Birol’s words:

I believe we have the chance to make this a historic turning point to a cleaner and more secure energy system. This is the first time I have seen such momentum behind the change to clean energy. The world does not need to choose between solving the energy crisis and [the] climate crisis, we can do both.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union's Reliance on Russian Natural Gas, March 3, 2022.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

Bloomberg: Scaling Up Renewable Energy Usage, March 16, 2022.

International Renewable Energy Agency: World Energy Transitions Outlook 2022, March 22, 2022.