2016 Report: Phasing Out All Federal Fossil Fuel Leases Would Reduce Carbon Emissions, But Not Nearly by Enough to Avoid Worst Climate Risks

Takeaway: while limiting U.S. fossil fuel production can reduce carbon emissions, achieving the vast majority of reductions needed to avoid the worst climate risks requires reducing fossil fuel consumption.
  • A 2016 report calculates that a U.S. Federal Government phase-out of all fossil fuel leases would reduce carbon emissions by an amount (100 million tons by 2030) roughly equal to recent Federal fuel efficiency regulations.

  • As the figure below shows, this phase-out would close the gap by 9%, in 2030, between where U.S. emissions are trending and where they must be to avoid the worst climate risks.

Oil Is the Biggest Source of Greenhouse Gas Pollution in the U.S.

Takeaway: we need to focus not just on coal and gas, but also on reducing carbon pollution from vehicles.
  • Oil accounted for 43% of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in 2015, exceeding both coal and natural gas, which each accounted for 28%.

  • In 2016, natural gas is expected to emit more GHGs than coal for the first time since 1978.

The U.S.'s Climate Change Target Is Way Weaker than Europe's

Takeaway: the U.S. needs to pass stronger policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. and Europe's climate targets (% below 1990 levels)

The U.S.'s percentage reduction is far smaller than Europe's for both 2020 and 2025.

Americans Eat 4 Burgers Per Week on Average. Cutting That to No More Than One Per Week Would Really Help the Climate.

  • The average American currently eats over a pound of beef each week (roughly equal to 4 burgers), and beef is between five and ten times worse for the climate than chicken.

  • The U.S. produces one-fifth of the world's beef, which is responsible for nearly 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Thus, reducing beef consumption to 1 burger per week (the maximum amount consistent with a sustainable global emissions level) would eliminate 1.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. Transportation Just Overtook Power Plants as Top Polluting Sector

Takeaway: while much attention is rightly paid to reducing emissions from power plants, we need to also focus on reducing transportation emissions.
  • For the first time in recent history, U.S. transportation became the most polluting sector, emitting more carbon dioxide since January 2015 than power plants (2,327 metric tons for transportation vs. 2,324 metric tons for power plants).

  • Transportation emissions are projected to remain at the top spot through 2030, at which point it is expected to exceed power plant emissions by 11%.

  • Power plant emissions are projected to fall much faster than those of the transportation sector, unless additional greenhouse gas reduction policies are passed.

EPA Says Clean Power Plan Will Reduce Power Sector Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 32%. We've Already Reduced Them by 21%.

Takeaway: the majority of emissions reductions expected by 2030, relative to 2005, are expected to happen regardless of whether the Clean Power Plan exists.
  • Relative to the Clean Power Plan's greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals for power plants in 2030 (32% below 2005 levels), the U.S. is already two-thirds of the way there (21% below 2005 levels).

  • Without the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Department of Energy projects power plant GHG emissions will stay roughly constant, at 20% below 2005 levels in 2030.

  • Thus, the CPP is the difference between emissions staying constant and declining slightly.

China is the Biggest Current Climate Polluter, but the U.S. is the Largest Historical Climate Polluter

Takeaway: regardless, both countries must increase efforts to reduce carbon pollution.
  • Recent data show that China is the biggest current emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), producing 22% of the world's current annual emissions.

  • The U.S. is the biggest historical emitter (27% of the world's cumulative GHG emissions since 1850), followed by the European Union (25%) and China (11%).

  • By 2030, India's annual emissions could equal or even surpass those of the U.S, if they don't pass additional policies to reduce emissions.