Stopping the leasing of US federal land to fossil fuel companies could cut as many as 450 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, a study has found.
Fossil fuels below lands owned by the federal government contribute up to half of the potential emissions from all remaining gas, coal and oil in the USA, according to the analysis by consultancy group EcoShift, which was conducted on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth environmental groups.
The potential greenhouse gas emissions released if all these energy reserves were burned is equivalent to a quarter of the total international emissions that can be released if the world is to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius, the study said, the UN-supported limit to avoid climate disaster.
"Our government has already leased more public fossil fuels then can be safely burned," Marissa Knodel, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "Each new lease puts us farther down the path toward climate catastrophe and is a direct contradiction to the president's pledge to attack the climate crisis head-on."
Energy companies can lease federal lands for drilling, but environmental groups say if the practice is not halted, the US will be unable to meet its obligations to combat climate change.
The study is thought to be the first attempt to measure the pollution potential of fossil fuel reserves on US government land, the study's author said, as government agencies do not track the amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from federal leasing of land to energy companies.