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WWF oil and gas policy aims to transform where we get our energy

21 September 2021

This article originally appeared in The Circle: The Arctic Under Pressure. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

We are trying to halt climate change because we want to protect the whole planet from devastating ecosystem changes that will fundamentally alter our lives. The solutions that will help us bend the curve on climate emissions seem so easy, yet are difficult to pursue. We have to stop burning fossil fuels and enable nature to store carbon. WWF’s oil and gas position aims to make this happen. RAGNHILD ELISABETH WAAGAARD explains.

HERE IN THE ARCTIC, the effects of the climate crisis have been more visible, profound and rapid than in the rest of the world. We are tired of news stories about record low ice cover, record high temperatures and the unprecedented scale of wildfires. The rapid changes in climate are already affecting our priority species, such as polar bears, caribou, wild reindeer and whales. These impacts will worsen in the foreseeable future even if we manage to limit global warming to 1.5°C. And the World Meteorological Organization is telling us there is a decent chance we will surpass that limit within the next five years.

In 2019, 93 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions came from coal, oil and gas. Most of us have seen the steep curve of emissions reductions that will be required if we are to have a chance at not exceeding a 1.5°C rise in the global temperature. Global emissions must peak immediately and begin a swift decline if we are to stay within the remaining carbon budget. This margin offers limited space for emissions from producing and consuming oil and gas.

TRANSFORMING ENERGY PRODUCTION

Easy access to cheap energy has changed the way we live: it has given us lighting, heating, cooling, refrigeration, computers, airline travel and much
more. The idea of returning to a time without these benefits seems unthinkable. In fact, it seems only fair that these same energy services should become
more available to more people around the world.

But at the same time, accelerating climate change requires us to transform how we meet our energy needs. We must move to a system that
provides affordable, accessible energy for all without generating greenhouse gas emissions. Unless we can make this transformation profoundly and swiftly, the climate crisis will fundamentally and irreversibly change the conditions for life in the Arctic and on the planet.

WWF is working to stop this from happening with our global policy on oil and gas. Its cornerstones are that exploration for—and production of—new oil and gas should cease, and existing oil and gas production and associated infrastructure must be wound down. Between now and 2050, we need to build an energy system that is 100 percent based on sustainable renewables. We are driven in large part by our understanding of the power of the climate crisis to devastate communities, individuals and the economy. Developing countries and vulnerable regions like the Arctic are most affected by the changing climate and least able to cope with its consequences. Being powerless to prevent and respond to the impacts of climate change increases the vulnerability of these communities, leading to the loss of development gains and the deterioration of living conditions. Making our society independent of fossil fuels is key to sparing these regions the most severe negative impacts.

NO TIME TO WASTE

It’s not an easy task, but the huge investments required to make this transition also have the potential to bring about great opportunities—from exciting new technologies to new commercial and employment opportunities—as the International Energy Agency showed
in its recently launched road map for Net Zero by 2050. The world economy will need a massive systems change and restructuring, and we have to make sure that the transition does not destroy our valuable nature.

All energy production, whether it is based on fossil fuels or renewables, comes with some cost to nature as well as to the people who live near energy production or resource extraction sites. Ensuring that the transition is just—and that it respects the rights of local and Indigenous communities—means
designing and applying mutually reinforcing environmental and social policies.

WWF’s oil and gas policy provides recommendations on how different countries, regions, businesses, investors and WWF itself can manage the transition away from fossil fuels and make the switch to alternatives. We have to prioritize and invest in zero-emissions solutions and harness the potential of renewable energy while prioritizing the projects that cause the least harm to nature. We strongly urge countries and businesses to make their future decisions based on the physical, economic and legal implications of the associated climate risks.

As a global society and economy, we need to limit our production and use of oil and gas for our climate, our nature and our future—and we need to start now. WWF’s oil and gas policy lays the foundation for how we could do this and our future energy work.

Download the Transition Away From Oil and Gas: A WWF Network Policy Position

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RAGNHILD ELISABETH WAAGAARD is leading the climate and energy team at WWF– Norway and the oil and gas work in the broader WWF network. Her main task has been to develop an oil and gas policy that will keep the world within the threshold of a 1.5°C temperature rise.