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SEI working paper

How would phasing out U.S. federal leases for fossil fuel extraction affect CO2 emissions and 2°C goals?

This paper examines the implications for U.S. fossil fuel production and global CO2 emissions of ceasing to issue new federal leases for fossil fuel extraction and not renewing existing leases for resources that are not yet producing.

Michael Lazarus, Peter Erickson / Published on 3 May 2016

Erickson, P., and M. Lazarus (2016). How would phasing out U.S. federal leases for fossil fuel extraction affect CO2 emissions and 2°C goals?. SEI Working Paper No. 2016-02.

Avoiding dangerous climate change will require a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. By some estimates, a phase out of global fossil fuel consumption and production – particularly coal and oil – will need to be nearly complete within 50 years. Given the scale of such a transition, nations may need to consider a broad suite of policy approaches that aim not only to reduce fossil fuel demand – the current focus – but also constrain fossil fuel supply growth.

This paper examines the potential emissions implications of a supply-side measure under consideration in the U.S.: ceasing to issue new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters, and avoiding renewals of existing leases for resources that are not yet producing. The analysis finds that under such a policy, U.S. coal production would steadily decline, moving closer to a pathway consistent with a global 2°C temperature limit. Oil and gas extraction would drop as well, but more gradually, as federal lands and waters represent a smaller fraction of national production, and these resources take longer to develop.

Phasing out federal leases for fossil fuel extraction could reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tonnes per year by 2030, and by greater amounts thereafter. The emissions impact would be comparable to that of other major climate policies under consideration by the Obama administration. These findings suggest that policy-makers should give greater attention to measures that slow the expansion of fossil fuel supplies.

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Click on the image above to view a slideshow of the main figures in the paper.

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About SEI Working Papers:
The SEI working paper series aims to expand and accelerate the availability of our research, stimulate discussion, and elicit feedback. SEI working papers are work in progress and typically contain preliminary research, analysis, findings, and recommendations.
Many SEI working papers are drafts that will be subsequently revised for a refereed journal or book. Other papers share timely and innovative knowledge that we consider valuable and policy-relevant, but which may not be intended for later publication.

SEI authors

Michael Lazarus
Michael Lazarus

Center Director


Peter Erickson

Affiliated Researcher


Topics and subtopics
Climate : Climate policy, Fossil fuels
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