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.

Climate Choice: Reducing Global Emissions Avoids the Risk of Hurricane Sandy-Strength Storms Happening Nearly Every Year by 2050

  • A 2013 study finds that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions avoids the risk of storms with Hurricane Sandy-like strength occurring roughly every year by 2050 along coastal regions in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

  • The study shows that if no global action is taken, sea level rise will cause the annual odds of a Hurricane Sandy-strength storm hitting Atlantic City to increase from roughly 1-in-25 today to about once a year by 2050, but if we do significantly cut emissions, the odds increase to a more manageable 1-in-10.

  • Hurricane Sandy's $60 billion cost is greater than the entire proposed annual budget for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for 2017.

Climate Choice: Cutting Emissions Avoids Risk of Losing All of Hawaii's Coral Reefs

  • A 2015 study finds that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions can save nearly half of Hawaii's coral reefs, whereas failing to reduce emissions will result in a complete loss of Hawaii's coral reefs.

  • About 38% of the ocean around Hawaii is covered by coral reefif we don't reduce emissions, Hawaii will risk losing all of its coral reefs by 2100, but if we do cut emissions, Hawaii would keep about 15% coral reef cover.

  • Reducing global emissions would provide between $10 and $30 billion in benefits to Hawaii between today and 2100 due to increased tourism and sustained local fisheries.

Climate Choice: Reducing Emissions Can Prevent Risk of Catastrophic New York City Flooding

  • A 2016 study concludes that reducing global greenhouse gas emissions avoids the risk of three feet of global sea level rise by 2100, more than 15 feet by 2200, and over 43 feet by 2500 due to Antarctic ice melting.

  • If we were to significantly cut down emissions, the Antarctic ice sheet would likely remain stable over time, creating almost no sea level rise by 2100, and under one foot by 2500.

  • This would prevent the risk of catastrophic flooding in low-lying areas of major U.S. cities such as New York due to sea level rise.

Climate Choice: Reducing Emissions Can Avoid Extreme Increases in 95-Degree Days in Southern California

  • A 2015 study says that if global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly, parts of Southern California (such as Los Angeles and Riverside) can avoid over a month of additional extremely hot (95-degree) days by the end of the century.

  • Los Angeles, which currently averages 6 extremely hot days per year, will face either 54 (if global emissions continue) or 15 extremely hot days (if global emissions are cut) by 2100.

Citibank: Cost of Doing Nothing About Climate Change is Far Higher Than Cost of Reducing Emissions

  • Citibank estimates that global damages from doing nothing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions range from $5 to $44 trillion of net present value (global GDP is currently $80 trillion), noting that these estimates likely undercount the true value of total damages.

  • The study estimates that the cost of investments to reduce GHG emissions range from $2 to $5 trillion of net present value.

  • The study also shows that the return on investment in reducing GHG emissions ranges from between 3% and 10% by 2040.

EPA: Global Reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Can Avoid Over $235 Billion in Annual Damages to the U.S. by 2050

  • An EPA study estimates that a significant global reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can avoid at least $235 billion in annual damages in the U.S. by 2050.

  • The biggest benefit comes from public health improvements ($200 billion annually) such as improved air and water quality, fewer heat-related deaths, and increased labor productivity.

  • By 2100, EPA estimates global GHG reduction could result in at least $1.2 trillion in annual avoided damages in the U.S., mostly from improved air quality.

Even 2 Degrees of Global Warming Poses Large Climate Risk

Takeaway: the world must treat the 2 degree target as an upper bound in order to minimize climate risk.
  • A 2013 study finds that levels of greenhouse gas emissions previously thought to be consistent with limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees (regarded by some as a manageable level of warming) risk triggering secondary effects that, in the long term, would result in 3 or 4 degrees of warming.

  • 3 or 4 degrees of warming would have major undesirable consequences such as flooded coastal cities and displaced populations.

  • If no further action is taken, the world is projected to exceed 2 degrees of warming before 2100.

Climate Choice: Reducing Emissions Can Help the Southwestern U.S. Avoid Megadrought Disaster

  • A 2015 NASA study finds that unabated global greenhouse gas emissions will increase the risk of a 30-year long "megadrought" in the Southwestern U.S.

  • Megadrought likelihood is on pace to increase from the current 12% to 80% by 2100.

  • Reducing global emissions can lower this risk to 60% or less.