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SEI brief

The SEI Initiative on Fossil Fuels and Climate Change

This information sheet describes an SEI Initiative focused on fossil fuel supply investments, infrastructure and institutions, and their implications for climate change mitigation and development.

Michael Lazarus, Marion Davis, Harro van Asselt / Published on 6 July 2015

Lazarus, M., H. van Asselt, and M. Davis (2015). The SEI Initiative on Fossil Fuels and Climate Change. SEI Initiative information sheet.

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Visit the Fossil Fuels and Climate Change Initiative page for more recent updates, including research, op-eds, and news.

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There is a growing recognition that if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, most fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground. Achieving this outcome, however, will be a daunting challenge. For many countries, fossil fuel extraction and trade are central to energy security and economic development. There is also limited knowledge about how different approaches to climate policy might affect future patterns of fossil fuel production.

Climate policy analysts and decision-makers at both the domestic and international levels have focused almost exclusively on curtailing demand for fossil fuels, with scant attention, until recently, to the supply side. Yet research by SEI and others suggests that, for economic and political reasons, both demand- and supply-side approaches are needed. We also need to better understand how institutions, investments and infrastructure can lock in dependence on fossil fuels, and identify strategies to end that dependency. Such insights can help policy-makers, international organizations, businesses and civil society to craft more effective climate strategies.

This brief describes an SEI Initiative with two core objectives: (i) to better understand the factors that support movement towards or away from further fossil fuel development; and (ii) to influence policies, plans and investment decisions so the pace and location of further fossil fuel development are more consistent with sustainable development.

Launched in January 2015, the initiative is creating a platform for high-quality, timely, and policy-relevant research on various facets of fossil fuel development and their implications for climate change mitigation and development. Building on ongoing SEI activities and partnerships, it takes a multi-disciplinary approach in addressing:

  • The emissions implications of development of fossil fuel infrastructure;
  • The political dynamics of fossil fuel interests at the national and international levels;
  • The domestic policy options that could induce a shift away from economic dependence on fossil fuels, keeping in mind the development needs of developing countries;
  • The measures by international institutions that could influence a shift away from fossil fuel dependence; and
  • The implications of constraints on the extraction of domestic fossil resources, specifically for developing countries.

The Initiative brings together expertise in energy studies, political science, economics and law, and multiple skill sets and tools – from energy modelling and greenhouse gas emissions accounting, to political economy analysis. Through this work, SEI will engage recognized leaders on climate change mitigation, energy modelling, political economy, equity and the climate change negotiations.

Download the information sheet (PDF, 1.9MB)

SEI authors

Michael Lazarus
Michael Lazarus

Senior Scientist


Profile picture of Harro van Asselt
Harro van Asselt

SEI Affiliated Researcher


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