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Risks of, and Responses to, the New Fossil Fuel Economy

Author(s): Lazarus, M. ; Erickson, P.
Year: 2013

This fact sheet describes a two-year SEI project to explore the implications of new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and technologies.

For the past two decades, national and international climate change mitigation efforts have focused on policies that promote low-carbon technologies and practices. As a result, many technological solutions are now within grasp. The manifold benefits and potential of energy efficiency are widely recognized, and, in many places, wind and solar stand at the cusp of "grid parity" with coal and gas.

But major barriers to a sustainable energy transition remain. From political interests to energy subsidies, the playing field still tilts toward further development of, and reliance on, fossil fuels. Furthermore, while the climate change community has focused on enabling the transition to efficiency and renewables, a back door was left open. In came what might be termed the "new fossil fuel economy".

Globalized coal markets and unconventional oil and gas production now operate at levels that few had predicted a decade ago. The challenge is now to ensure that this new fossil fuel economy does not further imperil prospects for stabilizing the climate and for achieving sustainable development goals.

This project aims to deepen understanding of the risks posed by new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and of the possible responses that policy-makers and civil society can take to mitigate or avoid these risks. Since the geographic and economic reach of the oil, gas, and coal sectors is vast, with myriad social and environmental consequences, our initiative concentrates in a few areas that represent emerging developments and leverage SEI capabilities.

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