Top Polluters: Breaking the Carbon Budget


In a stark warning, Greenpeace has published a detailed analysis of the 14 most significant fossil-fuel projects which, if unstopped, will take the world beyond the point at which global warming can be restricted to safe levels.

The 14 massive projects cover coal, gas and oil extraction and are located on five continents. Between them, they will produce by 2020 as many new carbon dioxide emissions as currently generated by the entire United States.

Together, the following projects will contribute an estimated 300 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by 2050. This will result in the earth’s rising temperature reaching a point by 2020 at which it will be impossible to hold it back.

Like any family or business, the planet has a “budget”. The world’s so-called “carbon budget” is essentially the amount of CO2 that can be “spent” or produced. If too much is produced, the planet reaches an environmental “cliff” which it will inevitably tumble down.

The carbon budget requires a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions if the planet’s temperature is to rise by only two to three degrees. According to Greenpeace, the effect of the following energy projects will be to set the world on a path towards five or six degrees of warming – a catastrophic scenario with major implications for extreme weather, food supply and human suffering.

The 14 projects described by Greenpeace as on target to break the world’s carbon budget are as follows:

  • The Pacific Northwest as the hub of America’s growing coal export trade
  • Undersea oil excavation off the coast of Brazil
  • Australia’s growing coal export industry
  • China’s five north western provinces, where coal production is set to rise by 620 million tonnes by 2015
  • Indonesia’s coal-rich island of Kalimantan
  • Canada’s tar sands – a planned tripling of oil production by 2035
  • Drilling in the environmentally-sensitive Arctic region
  • Deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – similar to that carried out by BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform
  • The Orinoco tar sands in Venezuela
  • Additional shale gas production in the United States
  • New oil production off Kazakhstan
  • Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – the expanding centers of natural gas production from the Caspian Sea
  • New production in Africa which will provide 250 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2035
  • Iraqi oil production – set to rise to 4.9 million barrels a day by 2035.

In response to its prediction of a broken carbon budget, Greenpeace is seeking a dramatic reduction in fossil-based fuels along with concerted political action to invest in renewable energy sources immediately. Its message is stark:

“Either replace coal, oil and gas with renewable energy, or face a future turned upside down by climate change.”