New research suggests a third of oil reserves, half of gas and more than 80% of current coal reserves around the world should be left in the ground and not be used before 2050.
Academics at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources say they must stay put if global warming is to stay below the 2°C target agreed by nations to counter global warming.
This total covers most of the coal reserves in China, Russia and the USA and more than 260 thousand million barrels oil reserves in the Middle East, equivalent to all of the oil reserves held by Saudi Arabia.
Researchers say the Middle East should also leave more than 60% of its gas reserves in the ground.
First researchers used a new method to estimate how much fossil fuel exists and where it is. Next they used a computer model to test which of these could be used alongside low carbon energy sources up to 2050 to meet world energy demand.
Dr Christophe McGlade, lead author and Research Associate at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources said: “Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2°C goal. If they go ahead with developing their own resources, they must be asked which reserves elsewhere should remain unburnt in order for the carbon budget not to be exceeded.”