December 24, 2021

The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance marks a big step towards the end of fossil fuels - but it must aim to increase governments’ ambition

Words by Jessica Kleczka

On November 11, the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) was officially launched at COP26 in Glasgow by the environment ministers of Costa Rica and Denmark. The new initiative has been described as a “first movers club”, potentially redefining what it means to be a climate leader. It is the first diplomatic initiative acknowledging the need for governments to manage the phase-out of oil and gas to address the climate crisis, and brings together both countries and subnational governments to increase international political pressure.

BOGA has three tiers of membership:

BOGA has been widely welcomed by civil society groups, who see it as a catalyst for bringing conversations around phasing out oil and gas to the table. However, it was notable that the most significant oil and gas producers, such as the US, UK and Saudi Arabia, were not part of the initiative. While none of BOGA’s members are large oil and gas players, some have reserves that they have chosen to leave in the ground - although Denmark’s goal to end oil and gas production by 2050 reflects existing global commitments, rather than setting a new benchmark. The UK - which is in the top 20 oil producing nations and the most profitable country for oil exploration - is dragging its feet on phasing out oil and gas, and has shied away from engaging with BOGA so far. Meanwhile in the US, the Biden Administration recently held the largest auction of oil and gas drilling leases in the history of the Gulf of Mexico.

The science is clear - we must leave fossil fuels in the ground

Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is no longer a civil society slogan, but is becoming central to the global climate conversation. Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency stressed that there can be no new oil, gas or coal developments in order to stay below 1.5°C of warming, and the 2021 Production Gap report exposed that governments are planning to burn more than twice the amount of fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris goal. The Paris Agreement itself does not explicitly mention fossil fuels, so BOGA is addressing a crucial blind spot in global climate policy.

Research from University College London quantified the amount of fossil fuels that should be left in the ground in order to stay within a safe 1.5°C limit of warming, and concluded that most planned fossil fuel projects cannot go ahead. These findings stand in stark contrast to the 30 oil and gas  projects currently in the pipeline in the UK, which also pays the most generous fossil fuel subsidies in the G20. Since signing the Paris Agreement, the UK has given almost £14 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, which has been the focus of a recent lawsuit against the UK government by campaign group Paid to Pollute.

Despite the government’s current laggard approach, the British public wants to see more action on fossil fuels: A recent survey has shown that twice as many Britons would support an end to fossil fuels than would oppose it, with 38% supporting or strongly supporting a ban on new oil and gas exploration and only 7% strongly opposing. This signals a broader shift in attitude, and highlights the acceptance of more ambitious climate policies in the UK. Climate change was recently ranked as the top issue of concern by the British public - above the pandemic, economy, or healthcare.

The UK committed to ending overseas public financing of fossil fuels at COP26, but domestically that ambition is not evident - with the Cambo oil field and Cumbria coal mine still in the realm of possibility. While big producers like the UK claim that their extractive industries are doing their bit - usually in the form of net zero pledges - those claims are usually based on lowering emissions from oil and gas extraction, which only makes up 10-15% of emission from the industry. The actual use of oil and gas - also called scope 3 emissions as they do not originate directly from the companies’ operations - are usually left out of those equations, despite making up the bulk of emissions (85-90%). Research by Oil Change International has shown that none of the examined oil majors have plans compatible with the Paris Agreement.

BOGA is only the first step towards ending fossil fuels

BOGA follows in the footsteps of similar initiatives, such as the Powering Past Coal Alliance and the Net Zero Producers Forum, but it is the first international alliance to recognise the need to stop the expansion of oil and gas altogether. While BOGA is an essential first step towards a collective shift away from fossil fuels, such a transition must be rooted in equity.

Countries in the global north with more diversified economies must not only stop expanding oil and gas, but also start reducing their production immediately - including in already licensed projects - and at an accelerated pace in order to meet climate targets. At the same time, poorer countries must be supported in their transition towards clean energy. Many developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have stressed their reliance on fossil fuel revenues to lift living standards and pay for their eventual green transition - highlighting the urgent need to meet climate finance goals, which are massively delayed.

The Production Gap report notes that although many countries continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy security, the risks of relying on production are becoming increasingly clear - in the form of stranded assets if decarbonisation goals are achieved, or climate damages undermining development. Research has shown that restricting the use of fossil fuels would allow governments to reduce emissions more cheaply than policies targeting demand - according to one Norwegian paper, at less than half the cost.

BOGA must aim to increase governments’ ambitions

The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance must now create momentum to mobilise big oil and gas producers, and catalyse global conversations around when fossil fuels need to end once and for all. While it is currently small in scale, it has the potential to create pressure on wealthy countries to be ambitious climate leaders, as well as creating support mechanisms for countries in the global south to aid their transition. In order to be successful, BOGA must urge its members to not only stop expansion of oil and gas, but also wind down existing production in order to ramp up ambition. At the same time, it should be pushing for science-aligned production end dates - in wealthy industrialised countries, this means well before 2050.

The UK government must now prove its climate leadership by joining BOGA and using its membership to promote a just transition away from oil and gas, both domestically and internationally. As the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, it is in a unique position to help accelerate global ambition; and as the birth of the industrial revolution, it also has a unique responsibility to do so. BOGA could mark a crucial step towards the end of oil and gas - but it needs the participation of major producers in order to truly facilitate the changes we need.

Header image: The Gaoyou Hubian oilfield, Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province, China, on Sept. 17, 2021. Dongxu Fang—Costfoto/Barcroft Media/Getty Images