It took hundreds of millions of years for Earth’s fossil fuel deposits to form, but mankind has burned much of it in just a couple centuries—in geologic terms, that amounts to an explosion of carbon emissions.
The question now is whether what’s left will be detonated too. These 14 massive reserves of coal, oil and natural gas are poised for extraction, and if business-as-usual prevails, these caches of carbon will significantly accelerate global climate change. Worldwide fossil fuel emissions must be limited to the equivalent of about 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide from 2012 to 2050 to preserve a 75 percent chance of avoiding catastrophic warming, according to Ecofys, an international climate consulting company.
In 2013, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels rose 2.5 percent worldwide—to a new high of 36 billion metric tons, according to the Global Carbon Project. If the 14 projects proceed, Ecofys figures show that by 2020, they would add enough CO2 to double last year’s emissions. That extra dose of CO2 would help raise global surface temperatures by more than 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. By 2035, the projects’ cumulative emissions would amount to 163 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent—that’s 16 percent of the emissions budget for limiting warming to a less-damaging 2 degrees Celsius.
Graphic by Jeremy Rue and Chris Schodt in partnership with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
InsideClimate News reporter Sabrina Shankman and intern Amy Nordrum contributed reporting and research.
Correction: An earlier version of this interactive graphic misstated that the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal project in Longview, Wash. would export 8 million short tons of coal per year. It would export 44 million short tons if built.