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  • Writer's picture Paul Boëffard

SCOTT ZIMMERMAN - EXPERT INTERVIEW N°5

PRESENTATION

Global Energy Monitor (GEM) develops and analyzes data on energy infrastructure, resources, and uses providing open access to information that is essential to building a sustainable energy future.


Global Energy Monitor studies the evolving international energy landscape, creating databases, reports, and interactive tools allowing to zoom in for background and details on any element of the system — coal mine, nuclear power plant, wind farm, oil extraction field, or fossil gas pipeline.


In March 2024, GEM has published the Drilling Deeper 2024 Report based on their Global Oil & Gas Extraction Tracker revealing that at least 20 fields were approved in 2023, sanctioning the extraction of eight billion barrels of oil equivalent.


Scott Zimmerman, project manager for GEM's global oil and gas extraction tracker answers our questions


I- FOSSIL FUEL SUPPLY SIDE INTIATIVES

As of 2023, the remaining carbon budget to limit global warming to 1.5°C is 380 Gt of CO2 emissions, while developed fossil fuel reserves could potentially contribute 915 Gt if fully extracted and burned (Oil Change International). In other words, there are 2.5 times more fossil fuel extraction projects underway than necessary to stay under the 1.5°C limit.

The abundance of fossil fuels is exemplified by the notion of Carbon Bombs, emphasizing 425 extraction projects poised to emit over 1 Gigaton of CO2. Mitigating these environmental risks should stand as our highest priority.


However, for the past 30 years efforts have predominantly concentrated on lowering demand, focusing on emissions, and overlooking the production gap paradox. This focus has disproportionately shifted blame onto consumers, allowing oil and gas (O&G) companies and producing countries to escape scrutiny.


LEAVIT: Why do you think Climate Action has mostly focused on lowering Fossil Fuel demand ? What is your view on Fossil Fuel supply side initiatives ?


Scott Zimmerman: The common analogy is that fossil fuel usage should be addressed using “both sides of the scissors” - cutting demand and production. Studies, such as those highlighted in the 2019 UNEP Production Gap Report, aim to quantify the impact of cutting production. One of those studies found that for oil, each barrel left undeveloped in one region will lead to 0.2 to 0.6 barrels not consumed globally over the longer term. That, along with the fact that emissions from extracting and processing oil and gas account for just about 20 and 15 percent of lifecycle emissions when those fuels are combusted, show the rationale for focusing on the demand side. However, supply side initiatives enable the assigning of responsibility to decision makers as they choose not to transition away from fossil fuel, and therefore are a valuable tool. Used in conjunction with demand-side measures, supply side initiatives are an important tool to pressure fossil fuel companies and governments. Focus on the supply side of the scissors has been gaining prominence over the past decade.



II- GLOBAL NORTH DOUBLE STANDARD

Paradoxically, nations with low historical emissions are discouraged by Western countries from drilling, yet they continue to finance and subsidize their own domestic petroleum production. The US, UK, Canada, Australia and Norway account for 51% of the total planned oil and gas expansion by 2050 (Oil Change International)


LEAVIT: What is your view on Western countries’ hypocrisy ? What should be their contribution to developing oil producing nations ?


Scott Zimmerman: If we want any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, fossil fuel extraction must decline immediately. There is no room for new oil or gas fields anywhere in the world. Despite its historical emissions and recent posturing as a climate leader, the United States is among the top countries in the world for discoveries and sanctioning of new fields. The better approach for countries such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Norway would be to provide significant amounts of climate finance to nations more dependent on fossil fuels and to endorse  international phase-out agreements.


The United States has made numerous promises to significantly increase its international climate finance, but “the U.S. is not nearly on track” to reach its commitments to climate finance.


The Civil Equity Review lays out a blueprint for an equitable phaseout, and could serve as a model for what western countries' contributions should be.

 

III- WHAT ALTERNATIVE FOR NEW OIL PRODUCING NATIONS

The GEM Report highlights that South America and Africa stand out as major regions for upcoming oil and gas endeavors, with Cyprus, Guyana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, previously not significant in production, now contributing to over a third of the anticipated volumes targeted for exploitation by producers.

Two nations known for oil production, Timor-Leste and Colombia, have recently ratified the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Their respective leaders have emphasized the imperative for transitioning their economies away from dependence on oil.


LEAVIT: Do you think this is background noise or the beginning of a bigger trend ?


Scott Zimmerman: Oil producing nations joining the FFNPT is certainly a great leap forward. Whether it's indicative of a larger trend is yet to be seen. However, it is clear that there has been great progress in the overall narrative around fossil fuels shifting towards a more sustainable, science-based one.


IV- LEAVIT INITIATIVE

Leavit is a think tank dedicated to finding ways to offer financial support to oil-producing nations affected by the resource curse. The aim is to harness Climate Finance to incentivize and compensate them to preserve carbon in the ground and transition towards low-carbon and resilient economies. In other words, updating and improving Ecuador's Yasuni ITT Initiative with current international financial tools and cooperation mechanisms.


LEAVIT: What are your views on the Initiative and what advises would you give going further ?


Scott Zimmerman: Any mechanism to keep oil in the ground could be worthwhile. Providing fair and just compensation, provided that it is equitably offered and justly funded, might be a worthwhile approach. I would expect issues to arise around calculating reserves and emissions, funding the financial support, and maintaining long term commitments through shifting political leadership.


Reserves and emissions calculations may prove especially problematic, as the figures will be dependent on assumptions regarding recoverability (geology, economics, and technology). The data necessary to verify figures are often not publicly available, and there is a danger that such an initiative could create incentives to inflate reserve numbers.

 

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