80 percent of current coal reserves, 50 percent of gas reserves and 33 percent of oil reserves should remain in the ground by 2050 to avoid the 2°C target established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and used as a benchmark by policy makers, according to a new estimate.

So much for that Peak Oil of 1992. We need to worry about Oil Glut instead.

The paper identifies the geographic location of existing reserves that should remain unused - it's no secret that is China, Russia and the United States, along with 260 billion barrels oil reserves in the Middle East. The Middle East should also leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground.

Will Mid-East dictators agree not to earn that $15 trillion dollars? China just signed a separate treaty with the Obama administration where they extracted unlimited CO2 emissions until 2030 while the US has to cut by 25 percent. They are unlikely to walk away from that agreement now, especially based on an estimated energy scheme to reach an estimated temperature target.

Drax coal plant in the UK. Credit: Christine Matthews

To create their numbers, the scholars estimated the quantities, locations and nature of the world's existing oil, gas and coal reserves and resources - they didn't factor in any new ones that might be found by geologists or approved by governments. They then used an integrated assessment model to explore which of these, along with low-carbon energy sources, should be used up to 2050 to meet the world's energy needs. They say their model has multiple improvements on previous models, allowing it to provide a world-leading representation of the long-term production dynamics and resource potential of fossil fuels. 

Lead author Dr Christophe McGlade, Research Associate at the University College London Institute for Sustainable Resources said, "We've now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2°C temperature limit. Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2°C goal. If they go ahead with developing their own resources, they must be asked which reserves elsewhere should remain unburnt in order for the carbon budget not to be exceeded." 

Co-author Professor Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at and Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said, "Companies spent over $670 billion (£430 billion) last year searching for and developing new fossil fuel resources. They will need to rethink such substantial budgets if policies are implemented to support the
limit, especially as new discoveries cannot lead to increased aggregate production.

"Investors in these companies should also question spending such budgets. The greater global attention to climate policy also means that fossil fuel companies are becoming increasingly risky for investors in terms of the delivery of long-term returns. I would expect prudent investors in energy to shift increasingly towards low-carbon energy sources."

Their analysis is consistent with other modeling approaches created by groups across the world with differing assumptions. Building on this analysis, their future work aims to investigate further the shifts in cumulative fossil fuel production between scenarios that lead to different long-term average global temperature rises.

Published in Nature.