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In order to avert the most extreme harms of climate change, the world must reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from all sources — especially fossil fuels — to zero by mid-century.

As one of the world’s top fossil fuel producers, the United States is heavily implicated in this transition. How should the U.S. align fossil fuel production with climate limits? This paper articulates three principles that lend structure to this challenging, but vital, task.

These are, in brief, to: (1) reduce fossil fuel production at a pace consistent with climate protection; (2) accelerate the phase-out in economies that are the most resilient; and (3) safeguard human rights, cultural resources and the local environment in the process. Together, these principles can inform debate on an equitable phase-out of U.S. fossil fuel extraction.

The principles reflect not only the science and economics of how quickly global fossil fuels must be phased out, but also equity and other critical social dimensions. Federal policy-makers could use these principles to help fulfil a goal of bringing the management of coal, oil and gas extraction in line with the U.S. government’s stated climate objectives as committed under the Paris Agreement.