Energy development and greenhouse gas emissions on federal lands

Liese Dart on behalf of Nathan Ratledge, Chase Huntley and Josh Lappen

In 2014, federally managed land and water accounted for roughly 40% of U.S. coal production and nearly 20% of oil and natural gas production. Associated life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be 1.46 billion tonnes CO2e, just over 20% of total U.S. emissions. Currently, emissions stemming from federal lands are not measured by the Department of the Interior; despite other climate-related rule makings, the Obama administration has done little to comprehensively address greenhouse gas emissions from federal lands. We quantify historical U.S. federal lands emissions, establish projections through 2030, and price the climate externalities of coal development by applying the social cost of carbon. We find that under the Clean Power Plan, federal lands emissions decline through 2030 via reduced coal production and coal-fired electricity. However, federal lands emissions reductions lag behind the economy-wide 26–28% emission reduction goal by 2025 to which the U.S. committed under the Paris Agreement, due in part to increased emissions from oil and gas. Our paper discusses policy options to further reduce emissions associated with federal lands, focusing on coal, given the current pause on new coal leasing and ongoing programmatic review. This discussion reviews the existing literature and then describes three practical approaches available to the Department of the Interior, including a strategy for managing additional resource commitments relative to climate targets, a carbon adder applied to upstream (or direct) coal emissions, and options for direct regulation of climate emissions.     Download full paper PDF »

Windows of opportunity: Coal phase-out in China

Hongxia Duan

Applying an analytical framework covering context, champions, concerns, and complementary policies, this paper aims to review the coal phase-out in China, its driving forces, and the enabling social, cultural, and political environment. The paper highlights the challenges of China’s coal phase-out and draws out lessons from previous experiences and practices. The paper suggests that innovative technologies that would “green” coal extraction, decarbonize coal use, and minimize resource consumption and ecological disturbance should be implemented on the ground in the very near future. This is a critical step for China to move away from the coal-dominated energy system, pursue a diversified energy system, and ultimately achieve an energy mix dominated by renewables. Further, China’s energy transition would need a comprehensive policy package, including clear goals, time-frame, and financial supports to address climate change, pollution control and improving people’s quality of life.     Download full paper PDF »

Impact of phasing out U.S. fossil fuel leases on CO2 emissions and the 2°C goal

Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus

Avoiding dangerous climate change will require a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. By some estimates, global consumption and production of fossil fuels – particularly coal and oil – will need to end almost entirely within 50 years. Given the scale of such a transition, nations may need to consider policies that constrain growth in fossil fuel supplies in addition to those that reduce demand. Here we examine the emissions implications of a supply-constraining measure under consideration in the U.S.: ceasing the issuance of new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters and the renewal of existing leases for resources that are not yet producing. Such a measure could help make U.S. fossil fuel production more consistent with the goal of keeping warming well below 2°C. It could reduce global CO2 emissions by 100 million tonnes annually by 2030, and by greater amounts thereafter. The emissions impact would be comparable to those of other major climate policies under consideration by the Obama administration. Our findings suggest that policy-makers should give greater attention to measures that slow the expansion of fossil fuel supplies.     Download full paper PDF »

Aligning coal development and climate change mitigation goals

Jan Steckel, Ottmar Edenhofer, Michael Jakob and Christoph Bertram 

This paper compares ongoing investments in global coal capacity with Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs), as laid down in the Paris Agreement. Achieving the goals outlined in the INDCs could arguably provide an entry point for more ambitious future climate policies. We find that many countries’ current plans to build coal-fired power plants will make it hard to reach the intended short-term mitigation targets therein. Globally, coal-fired power plants currently under construction and planned would consume about one third of the available carbon budget for a 2°C target if they were fully realized. Most of those plants would be built in developing and newly industrializing countries, with 85% of them– and hence related future emissions –located in China, India, Vietnam, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Having a closer look at these countries, we find that the committed emissions of current and expected coal plants also account for a large share of the emissions to which countries committed themselves in their INDCs for 2030. For instance, in China, India, Turkey and Vietnam, emissions from existing coal capacity, in addition to capacity that is either under construction or planned, would account for 40–60% of their INDC targeted emissions for 2030. At the same time, coal capacities planned and under construction would – if added to the committed emissions from existing plants – be as high or even exceed 2012 greenhouse gas emissions in India, Turkey and Vietnam. Contrasting bottom-up estimates with scenario analyses, we further show that committed emissions that would occur if all currently envisaged coal-fired power plants are constructed will seriously undermine long-term climate targets. We argue that low relative prices of coal in those countries are a main obstacle to investment in low carbon technologies and – given the global relevance –global mitigation goals.

Political economy of coal extraction in Colombia: Challenges and opportunities for supply-side mitigation strategies

Claudia Strambo, Aaron Atteridge, Marie Jürisoo, Ana Carolina González, Luis Miguel Mateus and Angélica Puertas

In order to design strategies to encourage a shift away from fossil fuels production, it is imperative to identify the main political economy and geopolitical challenges associated with restricting fossil fuel supply, and how these can be addressed. Such challenges are inevitably country- and context- specific. This study focuses on one of the biggest coal exporters, Colombia, whose economic development strategy is articulated around extractive industries. Since 2000, Colombia’s economy has become more and more dependent on the extraction of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. However, the country’s extractive industry (including coal) is facing significant challenges due to low commodities prices and growing pressure for climate change mitigation. At the same time, on the domestic front, the extractive sector suffers from a severe legitimacy crisis and faces uncertainties brought about by the peace talks and the announced structural fiscal reform. Within this context, the study aims to understand better the political economy of large-scale coal extraction in Colombia and to explore the feasibility of a series of supply-side mitigation measures that exist in academic literature or have been implemented in other geographical contexts. Our analysis builds on an innovative analytical framework that draws on several fields, including international political economy, critical geopolitics and socio-technical transitions. We start by describing the distribution of positive and negative impacts of the large-scale coal industry in Colombia for national and external actors, and analyse the materials, institutional and discursive mechanisms and strategies through which the coal extraction regime has been maintained despite internal and external pressures. We then review the interests and resistance strategies of domestic actors that are seeking change in the prevailing coal extraction regime. Finally, we discuss the feasibility of specific supply-side mitigation measures in view of the Colombian political economy of coal extraction.