IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

4.3.1 Fossil fuels

Fossil energy resources remain abundant but contain significant amounts of carbon that are normally released during combustion. The proven and probable reserves of oil and gas are enough to last for decades and in the case of coal, centuries (Table. 4.2). Possible undiscovered resources extend these projections even further.

Fossil fuels supplied 80% of world primary energy demand in 2004 (IEA, 2006b) and their use is expected to grow in absolute terms over the next 20–30 years in the absence of policies to promote low-carbon emission sources. Excluding traditional biomass, the largest constituent was oil (35%), then coal (25%) and gas (21%) (BP, 2005). In 2003 alone, world oil consumption increased by 3.4%, gas by 3.3% and coal by 6.3% (WEC, 2004a). Oil accounted for 95% of the land-, water- and air-transport sector demand (IEA, 2005d) and, since there is no evidence of saturation in the market for transportation services (WEC, 2004a), this percentage is projected to rise (IEA, 2003c). IEA (2005b) projected that oil demand will grow between 2002 and 2030 (by 44% in absolute terms), gas demand will almost double, and CO2 emissions will increase by 62% (which lies between the SRES A1 and B2 scenario estimates of +101% and +55%, respectively; Table 4.1).

Fossil energy use is responsible for about 85% of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions produced annually (IEA, 2003d). Natural gas is the fossil fuel that produces the lowest amount of GHG per unit of energy consumed and is therefore favoured in mitigation strategies. Fossil fuels have enjoyed economic advantages that other technologies may not be able to overcome, although there has been a recent trend for fossil fuel prices to increase and renewable energy prices to decrease because of continued productivity improvements and economies of scale. All fossil fuel options will continue to be used if matters are left solely to the market place to determine choice of energy conversion technologies. If GHGs are to be reduced significantly, either current uses of fossil energy will have to shift toward low- and zero-carbon sources, and/or technologies will have to be adopted that capture and store the CO2 emissions. The development and implementation of low-carbon technologies and deployment on a larger scale requires considerable investment, which, however, should be compared with overall high investments in future energy infrastructure (see Section 4.1).