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Limiting fossil fuel production as the next big step in climate policy


Despite the current ambivalence of the United States towards the Paris Agreement, national and local jurisdictions across the globe remain committed, and they are seeking ways to increase the ambition and effectiveness of their climate policies. One way forwards could be limiting the production — not just the consumption — of coal, gas and oil. Here we describe the rationale for, and CO2 emissions implications of, limiting oil production. Seven countries have recently imposed such limits, and we develop a case study for a potential addition to this group, the US state of California. We find that by ceasing the issuance of permits for new oil wells, California could reduce global CO2 emissions substantially and also enhance environmental justice in the state.

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Fig. 1: Countries that have implemented restrictions on oil exploration or extraction.
Fig. 2: Consumption and production of oil in California.
Fig. 3: California oil production and consumption are both projected to decline.

Data availability

Source data for Figs. 2 and 3 and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2 are provided with the paper. Source data for Supplementary Fig. 3 are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Source data for Supplementary Fig. 4 were used under licence for the current study and so are not publicly available; source data for this figure are therefore available from the authors upon reasonable request and with permission of Rystad Energy.


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The authors thank D. Broekhoff, D. Lashof, D. Rajagopal, C. Shearer and S. Shonkoff for helpful comments on this manuscript; E. Yehle for editing support; and F. Ackerman, M. Inman, G. Karras, M. Masnadi, G. Muttitt and K. Trout for helpful conversations about data and methodology. Support for this research was provided by the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

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P.E., M.L. and G.P. designed the research. P.E. conducted the analysis. P.E. wrote the manuscript with contributions from M.L. and G.P.

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Correspondence to Peter Erickson.

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Supplementary Tables 1-2, Supplementary Figures 1-4, Supplementary References

Supplementary Data 1

Source data for Fig. 2, Fig. 3, Supplementary Figure 1, and Supplementary Figure 2, as described in the "data availability" statement

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Erickson, P., Lazarus, M. & Piggot, G. Limiting fossil fuel production as the next big step in climate policy. Nature Clim Change 8, 1037–1043 (2018).

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