Producing and combusting all of the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves would generate more than 3.5 trillion tonnes of carbon emissions, more than seven times the remaining carbon budget set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This is one conclusion from a new Global Registry of Fossil Fuels, published by the UK-based think tank Carbon Tracker and San Francisco-based NGO Global Energy Monitor in mid-September.

The registry, released on 19 September 2022, includes information on emissions associated with fossil fuel reserves production and use. Over time, it will be expanded to include economic attributes, including taxes and royalties associated with specific assets, which could factor into decision-making on how to manage a phase-out of fossil supplies, says Carbon Tracker.

To date, climate change policy including the Paris Agreement has concentrated on lowering consumption of oil, gas and coal, but ignored fossil fuel supplies, say the registry’s architects.

The registry currently has data for more than 50,000 fossil fuel fields in 89 countries, accounting for 75% of global production. It demonstrates that even if all other nations immediately stopped producing fossil fuels, the US and Russia each have sufficient reserves to spend the entire global carbon budget. The registry singles out the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia, which generates more than 525 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, as the most significant source of emissions of the 50,000 fields listed.

In collaboration with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Carbon Tracker compared the emissions from fossil fuel production and the taxes paid by producing companies across 20 EITI member countries. The research reveals a wide discrepancy in taxes per tonne of emissions, with Iraq generating nearly $100 per tonne, compared with just over $5 per tonne in the UK.

“The science is crystal clear,” said Inger Andersen, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme at the registry’s launch. “The transition away from fossil fuel-powered economies is critical to the survival of people and the planet. For this to happen we need to deploy every solution in our toolbox to decarbonise our economies. The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels is an important step in providing insights to policymakers and investors as we embark on a just transition away from fossil fuels.”