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Arctic oil is ‘undrillable’ under Paris Agreement, says former UN climate head

Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, has warned governments against further Arctic oil exploration for the sake of the environment.

Figueres – a towering figure in international environment policy – oversaw the UN’s climate change efforts through the formation of the Paris Agreement of 2015, in which nearly every country on Earth agreed to cut their carbon emissions in order to minimise the impact of climate change. The Paris Agreement aims to retain a global average temperature rise of no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Now, Figueres is warning governments to curtail oil exploration in the Arctic. According to Reuters, she described drilling as uneconomical, given that it would take many years to develop any finds, and a threat to the highly fragile region.

“The Arctic has been rendered undrillable,” she told Reuters ahead of a speech at the Business for Peace Foundation in Oslo.

She explained that steadily rising temperatures are a threat to delicate regions, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Arctic and Antarctica. Last week it was reported that rising global temperatures could render most marine mammals extinct by 2100.

“The stakes are visibly higher than they were just a few years ago,” Figueres added.

While some countries, such as France and New Zealand, have committed to putting an end to oil and gas exploration, many governments favour further exploration. Companies including Statoil intend to continue searching for untapped resources in the Arctic Barents Sea, and in April the Trump Administration began an environmental review which could approve further oil and gas exploitation in a section of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

According to Figueres, investors could benefit by developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms. As governments seek to reduce their carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement, the international demand for these renewable energy sources – as well as high-performance batteries for energy storage – is likely to rise.

Figueres’ home country of Costa Rica may be on track for complete decarbonisation, thanks to the ambitious environmental policy of its newly-inaugurated President. The Central American country already runs on 99 per cent renewable energy sources and last year celebrated a record-breaking 300 days running just on wind, geothermal and hydropower.

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