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Would constraining US fossil fuel production affect global CO2 emissions? A case study of US leasing policy


Avoiding dangerous climate change will require a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. By some estimates, global consumption and production of fossil fuels—particularly coal and oil—will need to end almost entirely within 50 years. Given the scale of such a transition, nations may need to consider policies that constrain growth in fossil fuel supplies in addition to those that reduce demand. Here, we examine the emissions implications of a supply-constraining measure that was rapidly gaining momentum in the United States (US) under the Obama administration: ceasing the issuance of new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters. Such a measure could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 280 million tons annually by 2030, comparable to that of other major climate policies adopted or considered by the Obama administration. Our findings suggest that measures to constrain fossil fuel supply—though not currently viable in a US Trump administration—deserve further consideration at subnational levels in the US or by other countries now, and by future US administrations.

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The authors thank Jeff Archibald, Mike McCormick, John Larsen, Peter Marsters, Paul Ekins, Michael Mellish, and Spencer Reeder for helpful discussions about data and methodology. Adrian Down at SEI-US provided research support, and Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics and Sivan Kartha of SEI-US helped review this article.


Funding support was provided by Friends of the Earth US.

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Correspondence to Peter Erickson.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “Fossil Fuel Supply and Climate Policy” edited by Harro van Asselt and Michael Lazarus.

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Erickson, P., Lazarus, M. Would constraining US fossil fuel production affect global CO2 emissions? A case study of US leasing policy. Climatic Change 150, 29–42 (2018).

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