Current efforts in fossil fuel phase-out involve replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy sources in sectors such as transport and heating. Alternatives to fossil fuels include electrification, green hydrogen and biofuel. Phase-out policies include both demand-side and supply-side constraints. Whereas demand-side approaches seek to reduce fossil-fuel consumption, supply-side initiatives seek to constraint production to accelerate the pace of energy transition and reduction in emissions. It has been suggested that laws should be passed to make fossil fuel companies bury the same amount of carbon as they emit.
While crude oil and natural gas are also being phased out in chemical processes (e.g. production of new building blocks for plastics) as the circular economy and biobased economy (e.g. bioplastics) are being developed to reduce plastic pollution, the fossil fuel phase out specifically aims to end the burning of fossil fuels and the consequent production of greenhouse gases. Therefore, attempts to reduce the use of oil and gas in the plastic industry do not form part of fossil fuel phase-out or reduction plans.
Coal use peaked in 2013 but to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) coal use needs to halve from 2020 to 2030. However as of 2017[update], coal supplied over a quarter of the world's primary energy and about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Phasing out coal has short-term health and environmental benefits which exceed the costs, and without it the 2 °C target in the Paris Agreement cannot be met; but some countries still favor coal, and there is much disagreement about how quickly it should be phased out.
In 2019 the UN Secretary General said that countries should stop building new coal power plants from 2020 or face 'total disaster'.
In 2020, although China built some plants, globally more coal power was retired than built: the UN Secretary General has said that OECD countries should stop generating electricity from coal by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2040.
In some countries natural gas is being used as a temporary "bridge fuel" to replace coal, in turn to be replaced by renewable sources or a hydrogen economy. However this "bridge fuel" may significantly extend the use of fossil fuel or strand assets, such as gas-fired power plants built in the 2020s, as the average plant life is 35 years. Although natural gas assets are likely to be stranded later than oil and coal assets, perhaps not until 2050, some investors are concerned by reputational risk.
Most of the millions of premature deaths from air pollution are due to fossil fuels. Pollution may be indoors e.g. from heating and cooking, or outdoors from vehicle exhaust. One estimate is that the proportion is 65% and the number 3.5 million each year. According to Professor Sir Andy Haines at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine the health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels measured in money (estimated by economists using the value of life for each country) are substantially more than the cost of achieving the 2 degree C goal of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change mitigation
Fossil-fuel phase-out is the largest part of limiting global warming as they account for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, but as of 2020[update] needs to move 4 times faster to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve the climate goal the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves owned today by countries and companies must remain in the ground.
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The renewable energy transition can create jobs through the construction of new power plants and the manufacturing of the equipment that they need, as was seen in the case of Germany and the wind power industry.
This can also be seen in the case of France and the nuclear power industry. France receives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and hundreds of jobs have been created for developing nuclear technology, construction workers, engineers, and radiation protection specialists.
Countries which lack fossil fuel deposits, particularly coal but also petroleum and natural gas, often cite energy independence in their shift away from fossil fuels.
In Switzerland the decision to electrify virtually the entire railway network was taken in light of the two world wars (during which Switzerland was neutral) when coal imports became increasingly difficult. As Switzerland has ample hydropower resources, electric trains (as opposed to those driven by steam locomotives or diesel) could be run on domestic energy resources, reducing the need for coal imports.
The 1973 oil crisis also led to a shift in energy policy in many places to become (more) independent of fossil fuel imports. In France the government announced an ambitious plan to expand nuclear power which by the end of the 1980s had shifted France's electricity sector almost entirely away from coal gas and oil and towards nuclear power.
The trend towards encouraging cycling in the Netherlands and Denmark also coincided with the 1973 oil crisis and aimed in part at reducing the need for oil imports in the transportation sector.
Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is very important. It must however be done carefully to avoid protests and making poor people poorer. In most cases, however, low fossil fuel prices benefit wealthier households more than poorer households. So to help poor and vulnerable people, other measures than fossil fuel subsidies would be more targeted. This could in turn increase public support for subsidy reform.
Economic theory indicates that the optimal policy would be to remove coal mining and burning subsidies and replace them with optimal[clarification needed] taxes. Global studies indicate that even without introducing taxes, subsidy and trade barrier removal at a sectoral level would improve efficiency and reduce environmental damage.: 568 Removal of these subsidies would substantially[quantify] reduce GHG emissions and create jobs in renewable energy.
The actual effects of removing fossil fuel subsidies would depend heavily on the type of subsidy removed and the availability and economics of other energy sources. There is also the issue of carbon leakage, where removal of a subsidy to an energy-intensive industry could lead to a shift in production to another country with less regulation, and thus to a net increase in global emissions.
In developed countries, energy costs are low and heavily subsidized, whereas in developing countries, the poor pay high costs for low-quality services. It is difficult to measure energy subsidies, but there was some evidence in 2001 that coal production subsidies had declined in several developing and OECD countries.: 410 [needs update?]
Excluding subsidies the levelized cost of electricity from new large-scale solar power in India and China has been below existing coal-fired power stations since 2021.
A study by Rice University Center for Energy Studies suggested the following steps for countries:
Countries should commit to a specific time frame for a full phaseout of implicit and explicit fossil fuel subsidies.
Clarify the language on subsidy reform to remove ambiguous terminology.
Seek formal legislation in affected countries that codifies reform pathways and reduces opportunities for backsliding.
Publish transparent formulas for market-linked pricing, and adhere to a regular schedule for price adjustments.
Phase-in full reforms in a sequence of gradual steps. Increasing prices gradually but on a defined schedule signals intent to consumers while allowing time to invest in energy efficiency to partially offset the increases.
Aspire to account for externalities over time by imposing a fee or tax on fossil energy products and services, and eliminating preferences for fossil fuels that remain embedded in the tax code.
Use direct cash transfers to maintain benefits for poor segments of society rather than preserving subsidized prices for vulnerable socioeconomic groups.
Launch a comprehensive public communications campaign.
Any remaining fossil fuel subsidies should be clearly budgeted at full international prices and paid for by the national treasury.
Document price and emissions changes with reporting requirements.
Studies about fossil fuel phase-out
The countries most reliant on fossil fuels for electricity vary widely on how great a percentage of that electricity is generated from renewables, leaving wide variation in renewables' growth potential.
In 2015, Greenpeace and Climate Action Network Europe released a report highlighting the need for an active phase-out of coal-fired generation across Europe. Their analysis derived from a database of 280 coal plants and included emissions data from official EU registries.
A 2016 report by Oil Change International, concludes that the carbon emissions embedded in the coal, oil, and gas in currently working mines and fields, assuming that these run to the end of their working lifetimes, will take the world to just beyond the 2 °C limit contained in the 2015 Paris Agreement and even further from the 1.5 °C goal. The report observes that "one of the most powerful climate policy levers is also the simplest: stop digging for more fossil fuels".: 5
In 2016, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and 11 other NGOs released a report on the impact of building new coal-fired power plants in countries where a significant proportion of the population lacks access to electricity. The report concludes that, on the whole, building coal-fired power plants does little to help the poor and may make them poorer. Moreover, wind and solar generation are beginning to challenge coal on cost.
A 2018 study in Nature Energy, suggests that 10 countries in Europe could completely phase out coal-fired electricity generation with their current infrastructure, whilst the United States and Russia could phase out at least 30%.
In 2020, the Fossil Fuel Cuts Database provided the first global account of supply-side initiatives to constrain fossil fuel production. The latest update of the database recorded 1967 initiatives implemented between 1988 and October 2021 in 110 countries across seven major types of supply-side approaches (Divestment, n=1201; Blockades, n= 374; Litigation, n= 192; Moratoria and Bans, n= 146; Production subsidies removal, n=31; Carbon tax on fossil fuel production, n=16; Emissions Trading Schemes, n= 7).
The GeGaLo index of geopolitical gains and losses assesses how the geopolitical position of 156 countries may change if the world fully transitions to renewable energy resources. Former fossil fuel exporters are expected to lose power, while the positions of former fossil fuel importers and countries rich in renewable energy resources is expected to strengthen.
A Guardian investigation showed in 2022, that big fossil fuel firms continue to plan huge investments in new fossil fuel production projects that would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits.
Renewable energy potentials
In June 2021 Dr Sven Teske and Dr Sarah Niklas from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney found that "existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets." In co-operation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative they published a report entitled, Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy: An orderly wind down of coal, oil, and gas to meet the Paris Agreement. It analyses global renewable energy potential, and finds that "every region on Earth can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy to keep warming below 1.5ºC and provide reliable energy access to all."
Assessment of extraction prevention responsibilities
In September 2021, the first scientific assessment of the minimum amount of fossil fuels that would need to be secured from extraction per region as well as globally, to allow for a 50% probability of limiting global warming by 2050 to 1.5 °C was provided.
Challenges of fossil fuel phase-out
The phase-out of fossil fuels involves many challenges, and one of them is the reliance that the world currently has on them. In 2014, fossil fuels provided 81.1% of the primary energy consumption of the world, with approximately 465 exajoules (11,109 megatonnes of oil equivalent). This number is composed by 179 EJ (4,287 Mtoe) of oil consumption; 164 EJ (3,918 Mtoe) of coal consumption, and 122 EJ (2,904 Mtoe) of natural gas consumption.
Fossil fuel phase-out may lead to an increment in electricity prices, because of the new investments needed to replace their share in the electricity mix with alternative energy sources.
Another impact of a phase-out of fossil fuels is in employment. In the case of employment in the fossil fuel industry, a phase-out is logically undesired, therefore, people employed in the industry will usually oppose any measures that put their industries under scrutiny. Endre Tvinnereim and Elisabeth Ivarsflaten studied the relationship between employment in the fossil fuel industry with the support to climate change policies. They proposed that one opportunity for displaced drilling employments in the fossil fuel industry could be in the geothermal energy industry. This was suggested as a result of their conclusion: people and companies in the fossil fuel industry will likely oppose measures that endanger their employment, unless they have other stronger alternatives. This can be extrapolated to political interests, that can push against the phase-out of fossil fuels initiative. One example is how the vote of United States Congress members is related to the preeminence of fossil fuel industries in their respective states.
According to the people present at COP27 in Egypt, Saudi Arabian representatives pushed to block a call for the world to burn less oil. After objections from Saudi Arabia and a few other oil producers, summit’s final statement failed to include a call for nations to phase out fossil fuels. In March 2022, at a United Nations meeting with climate scientists, Saudi Arabia, together with Russia, pushed to delete a reference to “human-induced climate change” from an official document, disputing the scientifically established fact that the burning of fossil fuels by humans is the main driver of the climate crisis.
Major initiatives and legislation to phase out fossil fuels
China has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, which would need a just transition for over 3 million workers in the coal-mining and power industry. It is not yet clear whether China aims to phase-out all fossil fuel use by that date or whether a small proportion will still be in use with the carbon captured and stored. In 2021, coal mining was ordered to run at maximum capacity.
From 2011 to 2021, renewable energy has grown from 20% to 28% of global electricity supply. Fossil energy shrunk from 68% to 62%, and nuclear from 12% to 10%. The share of hydropower decreased from 16% to 15% while power from sun and wind increased from 2% to 10%. Biomass and geothermal energy grew from 2% to 3%. There are 3,146 gigawatts installed in 135 countries, while 156 countries have laws regulating the renewable energy sector. In 2021, China accounted for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity.
Globally there are over 10 million jobs associated with the renewable energy industries, with solar photovoltaics being the largest renewable employer. Renewable energy systems are rapidly becoming more efficient and cheaper and their share of total energy consumption is increasing, with a large majority of worldwide newly installed electricity capacity being renewable. In most countries, photovoltaic solar or onshore wind are the cheapest new-build electricity.
In 2015, hydroelectric energy generated 16.6% of the world's total electricity and 70% of all renewable electricity. In Europe and North America environmental concerns around land flooded by large reservoirs ended 30 years of dam construction in the 1990s. Since then large dams and reservoirs continue to be built in countries like China, Brazil and India. Run-of-the-river hydroelectricity and small hydro have become popular alternatives to conventional dams that may create reservoirs in environmentally sensitive areas.
Regions in the higher northern and southern latitudes have the highest potential for wind power. In most regions, wind power generation is higher in nighttime, and in winter when PV output is low. For this reason, combinations of wind and solar power are suitable in many countries.
In 2017, solar power provided 1.7% of total worldwide electricity production, growing at 35% per annum.
By 2020 the solar contribution to global final energy consumption is expected to exceed 1%.
Solar photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity and many solar photovoltaic power stations have been built. The size of these stations has increased progressively over the last decade with frequent new capacity records. Many of these plants are integrated with agriculture and some use innovative tracking systems that follow the sun's daily path across the sky to generate more electricity than conventional fixed-mounted systems. Solar power plants have no fuel costs or emissions during operation.
Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.
The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report identifies nuclear energy as one of the technologies that can provide electricity with less than 5% of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of coal power. There are more than 60 nuclear reactors shown as under construction in the list of Nuclear power by country with China leading at 23. Globally, more nuclear power reactors have closed than opened in recent years but overall capacity has increased. China has stated its plans to double nuclear generation by 2030. India also plans to greatly increase its nuclear power. The Manhattan 2 Project has presented a report that describes how to significantly increase nuclear power via factory automation.
Several countries have enacted laws to cease construction on new nuclear power stations. Several European countries have debated nuclear phase-outs and others have completely shut down some reactors. Three nuclear accidents have influenced the slowdown of nuclear power: the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the USSR, and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its 17 reactors and pledged to close the rest by the end of 2022. Italy voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors. Japan's prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan's reliance on nuclear power. Taiwan's president did the same. Shinzō Abe, prime minister of Japan since December 2012, announced a plan to restart some of the 54 Japanese nuclear power plants and to continue some nuclear reactors under construction.
Cost overruns, construction delays, the threat of catastrophic accidents, and regulatory hurdles often make nuclear power plant expansion practically infeasible. Some companies and organizations have proposed plans aimed at mitigating the cost, duration, and risk of nuclear power plant construction. NuScale Power, for example, has received regulatory approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a light-water reactor that would theoretically limit the risk of accidents and could be manufactured for less than traditional nuclear plants. The Energy Impact Center's OPEN100, a platform that provides open-source blueprints for the construction of a nuclear plant with a 100-megawatt pressurized water reactor, claims that its model could be built in as little as two years for $300 million. In both plans, the ability to mass manufacture small modular reactors would theoretically cut down on construction time.
Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials. As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or indirectly – once or converted into another type of energy product such as biofuel. Biomass can be converted to energy in three ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion.
Using biomass as a fuel produces air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, NOx (nitrogen oxides), VOCs (volatile organic compounds), particulates and other pollutants at levels above those from traditional fuel sources such as coal or natural gas in some cases (such as with indoor heating and cooking). Utilization of wood biomass as a fuel can also produce fewer particulate and other pollutants than open burning as seen in wildfires or direct heat applications.Black carbon – a pollutant created by combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass – is possibly the second largest contributor to global warming.: 56–57 In 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil fuel burning.Denmark has increased the use of biomass and garbage, and decreased the use of coal.
Costs of producing renewable energy have declined significantly, with 62% of total renewable power generation added in 2020 having lower costs than the cheapest new fossil fuel option.
Moving away from fossil fuels will require changes not only in the way energy is supplied, but in the way it is used, and reducing the amount of energy required to deliver various goods or services is essential. Opportunities for improvement on the demand side of the energy equation are as rich and diverse as those on the supply side, and often offer significant economic benefits.
Efficiency is essential to slowing the energy demand growth so that rising clean energy supplies can make deep cuts in fossil fuel use. If energy use grows too fast, renewable energy development will chase a receding target. Likewise, unless clean energy supplies come online rapidly, slowing demand growth will only begin to reduce total emissions; reducing the carbon content of energy sources is also needed.
The IEA has stated that renewable energy and energy efficiency policies are complementary tools for the development of a sustainable energy future, and should be developed together instead of being developed in isolation.
Many countries and cities have introduced bans on the sales of new internal combustion engine vehicles, requiring all new cars to be electric vehicles or otherwise powered by clean, non-emitting sources. Such bans include the United Kingdom by 2035 and Norway by 2025. Many transit authorities are working to purchase only electric buses while also restricting use of ICE vehicles in the city center to limit air pollution. Many US states have a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, incrementally requiring a certain percent of cars sold to be electric. The German term de: Verkehrswende ("traffic transition" analogous to "Energiewende", energetic transition) calls for a shift from combustion powered road transport to bicycles, walking and rail transport and the replacement of remaining road vehicles with electric traction.
Those corporations that continue to invest in new fossil fuel exploration, new fossil fuel exploitation, are really in flagrant breach of their fiduciary duty because the science is abundantly clear that this is something we can no longer do.
In 2013, the Gallup organization determined that 41% of Americans wanted less emphasis placed on coal energy, versus 31% who wanted more. Large majorities wanted more emphasis placed on solar (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%).
Environmental Defense Fund
The US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has taken a stand in favor of natural gas production and hydraulic fracturing, while pressing for stricter environmental controls on gas drilling, as a feasible way to replace coal. The organization has funded studies jointly with the petroleum industry on the environmental effects of natural gas production. The organization sees natural gas as a way to quickly replace coal, and that natural gas in time will be replaced by renewable energy. The policy has been criticized by some environmentalists.
If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.
^"COP26 Energy Transition Council launched". GOV.UK. Archived from the original on 6 October 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2020. In the next phase of this partnership, we must focus even more strongly on working with business to accelerate the development of solutions that are critical to achieve net zero, such as energy storage and clean hydrogen production.
^"COP26 Energy Transition Council launched". GOV.UK. Archived from the original on 6 October 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2020. The International Energy Agency has told us that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the global transition to clean power needs to move four times faster than our current pace.
^Sütterlin, B.; Siegrist, Michael (2017). "Public acceptance of renewable energy technologies from an abstract versus concrete perspective and the positive imagery of solar power". Energy Policy. 106: 356–366. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2017.03.061.