Pacific oil shore platforms. Photo: Art Wager / Getty Images.

Phasing out oil production could be “the next big step in climate policy,” thanks to a promising initial group of first-movers, according to a new paper from the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The paper – which appears today in Nature Climate Change – comes as government officials prepare to gather in Katowice, Poland on Dec. 3 for UN climate negotiations. Spain has also just announced its plan to “de-carbonize,” including a ban on new offshore drilling.

The authors focus on California as the possible next addition to this growing list of governments choosing to forego oil extraction. It finds numerous benefits to restricting production, including not only reducing global emissions but also helping revoke the “social license” of fossil fuel producers.

“Countries like France, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Belize and – just last week – Spain are sending a clear signal by phasing out oil production,” said Georgia Piggot, an SEI sociologist and co-author of the study. “The fossil fuel era needs to end soon, and governments need have clear plans in place to ensure an orderly and fair transition.”

The paper uses California as a case study, pointing to a resolution from the state’s Air Resources Board to “evaluate and explore” reducing production of petroleum.

It finds that phasing out oil in the state would reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly the same amount as many of the other climate policies currently planned by the state. And, because most oil drilling in the state happens in the most pollution-vulnerable communities, phasing it out would have important environmental justice benefits as well.

“Gradually phasing down oil production is a reasonable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said SEI Senior Scientist Peter Erickson, the study’s lead author. “California is one of the top oil producing states in the US, but it is also a climate leader. Restricting oil production would complement the state’s flagship policies, such as strengthened standards for clean power or energy efficiency.”

The paper’s lessons apply to other governments, as well. The paper concludes that governments that aim to demonstrate leadership and meet Paris Agreement goals have “a number of policy options that can limit future production of oil and other fossil fuels, while delivering important global emissions and local environmental benefits.”

These are messages that are timely, with the upcoming climate negotiations in Katowice (COP24). One of the paper’s authors, Michael Lazarus, will be joining a special UN political event (called the “Talanoa Dialogue”); he will discuss how action on fossil fuel supply can be included in climate change plans.


The study’s authors will present their results in greater detail – and be available to answer questions – in a webinar on 4 December at 10:00 PT. Contact SEI’s Emily Yehle at emily.yehle@sei.org for more details.

Peter Erickson also will discuss the paper and related research at the AGU Conference Washington. D.C. on 12 December.

More information

For interviews and further information, please contact:

Peter Erickson, Senior Scientist, SEI US
pete.erickson@sei.org +1 206 547-4000 x3# @SEI_Erickson

Georgia Piggot, Staff Scientist, SEI US
georgia.piggot@sei.org +1 206 547-4000 x2#

Michael Lazarus, Senior Scientist and Center Director, SEI US
michael.lazarus@sei.org +1 206 547-4000 @mlaz_sei

Emily Yehle, Communications Officer, SEI US
emily.yehle@sei.org +1 202 744-9055 @yehle