Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Global emissions

New oil investments boost carbon lock-in

Bringing new oil supplies to market could have an unexpectedly large impact on global emissions (see P. Erickson and M. Lazarus Nature Clim. Change 4, 778–781; 2014). New sources of oil increase carbon dioxide emissions in the short term, and make it harder and more expensive to scale down production in the long term. This 'carbon lock-in' entrenches our dependence on fossil fuels and commits economies to higher emissions (see

The scale of investment in oil supplies and the profits they bring over the long term already dwarf those associated with other fuels. And significant barriers still confront the adoption of competing low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles. Capital-intensive oil fields that have low operating costs relative to oil prices — as with most offshore oil deposits — make it even harder for us to switch. To wean us off oil, world leaders urgently need to curtail the billions of dollars that are currently earmarked for oil exploration and extraction.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter Erickson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Erickson, P., Lazarus, M. New oil investments boost carbon lock-in. Nature 526, 43 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing