"Phase out fossil fuels!" says Greenpeace

Only a quarter of known reserves can be exploited without breaking "ecolimits," claims group

Greenpeace International today called on governments to end further exploration of oil and gas reserves and to begin a phase-out of coal power stations and coal mining to protect the global climate. The world risks "dangerous climate change" if it burns more than a quarter of known fossil fuel reserves over the next century, the group said in a report designed to put pressure on governments in the run up to the Kyoto talks in December.

Based on an analysis of global flows of carbon, Greenpeace says that governments should aim to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2005. The European Union proposal of a 7.5% cut in emissions of the three main greenhouse gases by 2005 and 15% by 2010 will not avoid an increase in global temperature of 2 degrees centigrade over the next century, it warns.

Greenpeace's analysis assumes that, in order to protect the global climate, the "long term committed increase of temperature" must be kept to less than one degree above pre-industrial global mean temperature. The rate of temperature change must be brought to below 0.1 degree centigrade per decade as quickly as possible. In comparison, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts changes of between 0.2-0.3 degrees centigrade per decade for the next few decades.

The group calculates the impact of burning different proportions of fossil fuel reserves. It concludes that, to stay within safe limits, and with no action to stop deforestation, only around 145bn tonnes of carbon (btC) can be released from fossil fuel over the next century. Assuming "major action" to halt deforestation, the most that can be released is 225btC - representing only a quarter of existing fossil fuel reserves.

The estimates could be 50% out, the group concedes, but claims its calculations to be otherwise "robust to a wide range of assumptions about how sensitive the climate is to change and how severe the impacts will be".

According to Chris Rose, the deputy executive director of Greenpeace UK, "The report spells out the unavoidable logic for an intergovernmental phase-out of fossil fuels and an end to stockpiling of new reserves." Describing existing climate policies as "just stabs in the dark," Mr Rose accused governments and industry of "going to great lengths to avoid the question 'how much climate pollution can nature survive?'"

Follow Up:
Greenpeace International, tel: +31 20 523 6222.

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