Science for All | What are unabated fossil fuels? 

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Updated - December 14, 2023 12:21 pm IST

Published - December 13, 2023 04:37 pm IST

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The recently concluded COP28 saw multiple mentions of “unabated” and “abated” during discussions on fossil fuels. The Hindu takes a look at what they mean. 

Abatement refers to lowering the intensity of something. Abated fossil fuel use involves burning coal, oil, or gas by minimising emissions right from extraction of the fuel to their combustion, using carbon capture and storage (CCS) methods. 

Unabated fossil fuels, in terms of climate change, mean non-renewable fuels that are allowed to burn without using any CCS methods to capture their emissions. There is no standardised definition of the term, but this is what is widely agreed. In its sixth assessment report first published in 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that unabated fossil fuels refer to “fossil fuels produced and used without interventions that substantially reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emitted throughout the life cycle; for example, capturing 90% or more carbon dioxide from power plants, or 50–80% of fugitive methane emissions from energy supply”. 

The concept of unabated fossil fuels and their impact on our climate was first used internationally in 2021, in the concluding statement of the G7 climate and energy ministers meeting in the U.K. in May 2021, and at COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland. The Glasgow Climate Pact called on countries “to accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. 

A commitment to transition away from all fossil fuels has been reached for the first time at COP28. While the outcome is still short of a phase-out commitment that many countries wanted, this is the first time when a COP text has mentioned moving away from oil and gas. 

To reach net zero carbon by 2050, cutting emissions 43% of 2019 levels by 2030 and 60% by 2035 is crucial. Independent observers interpret this as a call to “phase out” fossil fuels by 2050. 

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