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.

Study: It Is Feasible for the U.S. to Achieve Over 80% Carbon-Free Electricity by 2050

Takeaway: reliability concerns about the transition to renewable electricity are valid, but not insurmountable.

Potential U.S. Electricity Generation Mix in 2050 (%)

The U.S. can feasibly generate over 80% of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2050.
  • A 2012 analysis shows that the U.S. can achieve over 80% carbon-free electricity generation by 2050, while maintaining grid reliability in every U.S. region and at relatively low cost.

  • This would reduce power plant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than three-quarters from current levels (equivalent to reducing overall emissions by about one-quarter).

  • This would increase the average American's monthly power bill by about $20, but this excludes power bill savings from energy efficiency and healthcare cost savings from reduced pollution.

Converting Every Single Coal Power Plant to Natural Gas Wouldn't Do Enough to Solve Climate Change

Takeaway: we need to transition from coal to carbon-free energy, not natural gas, in order to prevent the worst climate impacts.
  • A 2011 paper finds that if the world converted all coal power plants to natural gas by 2050, the resulting reduction in global temperatures would not be big enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

  • Even if, optimistically, no natural gas leaked into the atmosphere during its production and distribution, the resulting temperature reduction from a complete coal-to-gas shift would still be too small to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.