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Explained: What are ‘carbon bombs’, why environmentalists want them defused?

The usage of the term ‘carbon bombs’ picked up after an investigative project of The Guardian this year. The project reported the plans of countries and private companies all over the world to engage in 195 'carbon bomb' projects.

In total, around 195 such projects have been identified world over, including in the US, Russia, West Asia, Australia and India. (Credit: Pixabay)

A group of environmentalists, lawyers, and activists have come together to identify and ‘defuse carbon bombs’– coal, oil and gas projects that have the potential to contribute significantly to global warming.

The usage of the term ‘carbon bombs’ picked up after an investigative project of The Guardian from May this year. The project reported the plans of countries and private companies all over the world to engage in 195 ‘carbon bomb’ projects. Each such project, it is believed, will release huge amounts of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

What are carbon bombs?

Defining the term in its report, The Guardian said that it is “an oil or gas project that will result in at least a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over its lifetime.”

Whenever coal, oil, or gas is extracted it results in pollution and environmental degradation. Further, carbon emissions take place in particularly large amounts when fuel is burned.

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In total, around 195 such projects have been identified world over, including in the US, Russia, West Asia, Australia and India. According to the report, they will collectively overshoot the limit of emissions that had been agreed to in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The agreement was to contain the global rise in average temperature to 2 °C and strive for the target of 1.5 °C as compared to pre-industrial levels – when the widespread use of coal for industry in the beginning in the mid-19th century led to a rapid rise in average global temperatures.

What does the investigation say?

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More than 60% of these carbon bomb projects are already underway, according to the investigation. Apart from coal, oil, and gas operations, the report highlighted the threat of methane, which “routinely leaks from gas operations and is a powerful greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times more heat than CO2 over 20 years”.

It also put the blame on the companies conducting these operations, pointing to present time where multiple factors, especially the Russia-Ukraine crisis, have led to a reduction in supply and rise in the demand for fuel.

As Russian oil has been banned by countries in the West, prices have risen to the benefit of oil and gas producing companies.

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The report criticised reliance on fuel from conventional sources and not making use of emerging, green sources of energy. Energy companies such as ExxonMobil, Total, Chevron, Shell and BP (British Petroleum) are all mentioned as having coal bomb projects.

“Under the IEA net zero emissions scenario, and all Paris-aligned scenarios, all energy sources remain important through 2050, and oil and natural gas remain essential components of the energy mix,” an ExxonMobil spokesperson told The Guardian.

This in reference to the International Energy Agency, an international organisation which put together a road map to reduce global carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050.

Net zero emissions means that all carbon emissions into the atmosphere must be absorbed by methods like increasing the forest cover, and decreasing man-made emissions.

A spokesperson for Shell said: “As a result of [our] planned level of capital investment, we expect a gradual decline of about 1-2% a year in total oil production through to 2030, including divestments.”

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In response to the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had spoken of the need to maintain global temperatures: “…We are on a fast track to climate disaster…we are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris…but high-emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames. To keep the 1.5-degree limit agreed in Paris within reach, we need to cut global emissions by 45% this decade, but current climate pledges would mean a 14% increase in emissions. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

What is the plan for ‘defusing’ carbon bombs?

The network working towards this goal is called Leave It In the Ground Initiative (LINGO). Its mission is to “leave fossil fuels in the ground and learn to live without them.” It believes the root of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, and the 100% use of renewable energy sources is the solution.

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On its website, it has listed carbon bomb projects from all over the world. This includes the Carmichael Coal Project owned by the Adani Group, Gevra Coal Mines in Chhattisgarh owned by Coal India, and Rajmahal Coal Mines in eastern Jharkhand owned by Eastern Coalfields.

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LINGO aims to organise ground support for protesting such projects, challenge them through litigation, and conduct analysis and studies for the same.

First published on: 07-06-2022 at 05:49:16 pm
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