Posted in | News | Ecosystems

UB-Led Study Warns Against Exploiting Oil Resources to Fulfill Paris Agreement Commitments

To prevent the global average temperature from increasing beyond 1.5 °C, it is crucial to make substantial reductions in carbon dioxide (CO) emissions in the atmosphere. According to research conducted by the University of Barcelona and published in the journal Nature Communications, achieving this goal would require refraining from exploiting the majority of existing coal, conventional gas, and oil energy resources in regions across the globe.

UB-Led Study Warns Against Exploiting Oil Resources to Fulfill Paris Agreement Commitments

The study presents the atlas of unburnable oil in the world, designed based on environmental and social criteria to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, combat the effects of climate change and comply with this international treaty, signed in 2015 in Paris as part of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). Image Credit: University of Barcelona

The most recent study introduces the global atlas of unburnable oil, a world map created with social and environmental standards that warn which oil resources should not be used to fulfill the 2015 Paris Agreement’s commitments to lessen the consequences of climate change.

The study in question was led by Professor Martí Orta-Martínez from the UB’s Faculty of Biology and the UB Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio), and co-authored by Gorka Muñoa and Guillem Rius-Taberner (UB-IRBio), Lorenzo Pellegrini and Murat Arsel from Erasmus University Rotterdam (The Netherlands), and Carlos Mena from the University of San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador).

The Unburnable Oil Atlas emphasizes the importance of avoiding oil exploitation in the world's most socio-environmentally fragile regions to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. These areas include natural reserves, vital biodiversity conservation zones, regions with high numbers of unique species, urban centers, and territories inhabited by indigenous peoples in isolation.

However, the atlas also warns that refraining from oil extraction in these sensitive areas alone may not be sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement's goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 °C.

Oil Exclusion Zones Around the Globe

The Paris Agreement is an international climate change convention that advocates for reducing global warming to below 2 °C over pre-industrial levels, with efforts to reduce it to 1.5 °C. It was signed by 196 countries on December 12th, 2015, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris and has been in force since November 4th, 2016.

To supplement worldwide climate policy, which is mostly centered on the demand for fossil fuels, the unburnable oil atlas offers a new roadmap that will improve socio-environmental protections in the exploitation of energy resources.

Our study reveals which oil resources should be kept underground and not commercially exploited, with special attention to those deposits that overlap with areas of high endemic richness or coincide with outstanding socio-environmental values in different regions of the planet. The results show that the exploitation of the selected resources and reserves is totally incompatible with the achievement of the Paris Agreement commitments.

Martí Orta-Martínez, Professor, University of Barcelona

In this context, the Unburnable Oil Atlas presents a fresh roadmap to supplement the objectives of international climate policy, which primarily focus on reducing the demand for fossil fuels. It aims to bolster socio-environmental protections in the extraction of energy resources.

There is now a broad consensus among the scientific community to limit global warming to 1.5 °C if we want to avoid reaching the tipping points of the Earth's climate system, such as melting permafrost, loss of Arctic sea ice and the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, forest fires in boreal forests, and so on. 

If these thresholds are exceeded, this could lead to an abrupt release of carbon into the atmosphere (climate feedback). This would amplify the effects of climate change and trigger a cascade of effects that commit the world to large-scale, irreversible changes”, Orta-Martínez added.

What Would Happen if All Known Fossil Fuels Were Burned?


To ensure that average global warming is limited to 1.5 °C, it is crucial to consider the remaining carbon budget, which refers to the total allowable CO emissions. As of January 2023, the remaining carbon budget for a 50 % chance of adhering to the 1.5 °C target was around 250 gigatonnes of CO (GtCO2).

This budget is steadily decreasing at current rates of human-induced emissions — about 42 GtCO2 per year — and will be completely used up by 2028.

Lorenzo Pellegrini, Researcher, University of Barcelona

The burning of the world’s known fossil fuel resources would emit approximately 10,000 GtCO2, which is forty times the carbon budget of 1.5 °C.

In addition, the combustion of developed fossil fuel reserves — i.e. those reserves of oil and gas fields and coal mines currently in production or under construction — will emit 936 GtCO2, four times more than the remaining carbon budget for global warming of 1.5 °C.

Gorka Muñoa, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Barcelona

The authors noted, “The goal of no more than 1.5 °C global warming requires a complete halt to exploration for new fossil fuel deposits, a halt to the licensing of new fossil fuel extraction, and the premature closure of a very significant share (75%) of oil, gas and coal extraction projects currently in production or already developed.”

Given the implications of the study, which has been supported by funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the European Union's Next Generation funds, the authors advocate for immediate action from governments, corporations, citizens, and major investors, including pension funds. They urge these stakeholders to cease any investments in the fossil fuel industry and associated infrastructure if socio-environmental criteria are not met.

Massive investment in clean energy sources is needed to secure global energy demand, enact and support suspensions and bans on fossil fuel exploration and extraction, and adhere to the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty,” the team concluded.

Journal Reference:

Pellegrini, L., et. al. (2024) The atlas of unburnable oil for supply-side climate policies. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/s41467-024-46340-6


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.