Fossil Fuels Phase-Out: Policy Framework Proposed


From the desk of The Land Institute Ecosphere Studies Research Fellow, and author of The Green New Deal and BeyondEnding the Climate Emergency While We Still Can.

A “managed phase out” of fossil fuels is increasingly called for in climate policy studies and congressional resolutions, as being necessary for a solution to the climate emergency. But the statements are usually highly generalized.

An article just published in the ecological journal Solutions proposes a specific national-level policy framework for rapidly eliminating fossil fuels. It is designed to be failsafe both for accomplishing that goal and for ensuring fairness and sufficiency throughout society.

The policy, called “Cap and Adapt,” has three parts which together address both the supply and demand sides of the CO2 emissions problem, an approach economists have called “cutting with both sides of the scissors.”

“Cap and Adapt policy begins with a permit-enforced cap on the quantity of fossils fuels a company is allowed to extract from the ground or import,” said Stan Cox, one of the authors. “Each company’s allowed production quantity will fall every year, by a fixed percentage of its quantities of extraction or imports of fossil fuels in the policy’s baseline year.”

The annual percentage reduction, to be set in the originating legislation, will apply nationwide. It will be the same each year, and will be the same for every fossil fuel producer regardless of the kind of fuel. This will result in the amount of fuel entering the economy becoming nil by the specified year, affecting all fuel types equally.

“This makes sense, because a rapid elimination of fossil energy is necessary,” said Larry Edwards, the lead author.

“The metric for permits will be barrels, tons or cubic feet depending on the kind fuel,” he said. “Because the purpose is to quickly eliminate fossil fuels on the fastest schedule legislators can be persuaded to accept – ideally in 10 or 15 years – favoring one fuel over another would be ineffective, and counting production is much simpler and more transparent than counting carbon.”

Once adopted, the cap is inherently failsafe for eliminating fossil fuel CO2 emissions, provided it is administered as intended and not legislatively repealed.

The other two parts of the policy adapt the economy and society to the falling availability of fossil fuels. In doing so, they secondarily help protect the cap from political assault.

One adaptive feature is a just energy transition as envisioned in the Green New Deal. It will construct more renewable electricity, shift users of fossil energy to electricity or solar heat, make uses of energy more efficient, reduce energy demand, and ensure a fair transition for fossil industry workers and frontline communities.

The other adaptive feature is a standby rationing program for fossil fuels (primarily) and if necessary other energy. It will be activated only when and to the degree necessary if the Green New Deal part of the policy does not keep pace with the cap’s reduced availability of fossil fuels.

“The purpose of rationing is to ensure fairness in a time of shortage, and that at least all basic needs are met,” said Cox. “Some technology advocates believe building renewable energy
infrastructure can keep pace with a needed deliberate phase-out of fossil fuels. But other
experts project that it cannot.  But other experts project that it cannot. A rationing program standing by will be vital insurance, to guarantee fair shares of energy to everyone.”

The Green New Deal is a widely recognized expression of hope for confronting the climate emergency. “Unfortunately, the Green New Deal has no provision for ensuring performance,” said Edwards. The “Cap and Adapt” framework centers  the GND between the two other policy features, creating a complete and effective policy package that we believe is as failsafe as possible for protecting the climate, the economy, and everyone.”

The authors acknowledge that their proposal sets a high, politically difficult bar that will be hard to clear. They see little choice but to try, and are hopeful that their article will lead to discussion and at least help move the goal posts of what is politically possible.

“At the international level, effective climate policy has been elusive because major emitting nations are dragging their feet,” said Edwards. “What’s needed is for one major emitting nation to adopt truly adequate policy like Cap and Adapt, opening the door for other nations to follow suit. One nation, or better yet a few, has to break the international stalemate.”


Larry Edwards is an engineer and environmental consultant in Sitka, Alaska.

Stan Cox is a research scholar at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. His most recent book is “The Green New Deal and BeyondEnding the Climate Emergency While We Still Can”  (City Lights, 2020)

The article:  Edwards, L. & Cox, S. (2020), “Cap and Adapt: Failsafe Policy for the Climate Emergency”. The Solution Journal. 11(3).  Sept. 2020.


References (for the above hyperlinks):

Green, F & Denniss, R. (2018). Cutting with both arms of the scissors: The economic and political case for restrictive supply-side climate policies. Climatic Change 150, 73-87.

Griffith, S (2020). Rewiring America. (120pp report).

Jacobson, MZ, Delucchi, MA, Cameron, MA & Frew, BA (2015). Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 15060-15065 (2015).

Manji, R. A (2008). Proposal for controlling global greenhouse gas emissions. IEMA’s The Environmentalist (Issue 64, 22 Sep. 2008).  (N.B.: Discontinued journal, and there was also a different journal of the same name.)

Muttitt, G & Kartha, S (2020). Equity, climate justice and fossil fuel extraction: principles for a managed phase out. Climate Policy 2020:1-19. (Authors are at Oil Change Int’l and SEI.)

Rosenbloom, D & Rinscheid, A (2020), Deliberate decline: An emerging frontier for the study andpractice of decarbonization. WIREs Climate Change: 2020;e669.

Con. Res. 22 & H. CON. RES. 52 & (2019). Bills “Expressing the Sense Of Congress that There Is A Climate Emergency Which Demands a Massive-Scale Mobilization to Halt, Reverse, and Address Its Consequences and Causes”. Introduced. by Sen. Sanders & Rep. Blumenaur.

The Land Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Salina, Kansas, that was founded in 1976. The Land Institute’s work, led by a team of plant breeders and ecologists in multiple partnerships worldwide, is focused on developing perennial grains, pulses and oilseed bearing plants to be grown in ecologically intensified, diverse crop mixtures known as perennial polycultures. The Institute’s goal is to create an agriculture system that mimics natural systems in order to produce ample food and reduce or eliminate the negative impacts of industrial agriculture.


Cap and Adapt: Failsafe Policy for the Climate Emergency

Volume 11 | Issue 3 | September 2020By Larry EdwardsStan Cox

Cap and Adapt: Failsafe Policy for the Climate Emergency

In Brief

Decades of continuing failures to achieve globally-agreed climate policy that is sufficient and fast enough to solve the climate change emergency is evidence that an additional policy track is needed, while the UNFCCC continues its effort. The article proposes a national-level policy framework that is capable of quickly cutting fossil fuel emissions to zero. If implemented by a major CO2 emitting nation, or better yet a club of a few such nations, a credible attempt could then be made to persuade other nations to follow suit. They could do so individually, or ideally en masse at a UNFCCC Conference of Parties. The article’s proposal could break the global climate policy logjam.

The peril that the United States and all of humanity face from global climate change is readily evident. The extraordinary climate-related catastrophes in recent years have become almost routine. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and more frequent, with regions sometimes suffering back-to-back or even concurrent disasters. Emergency response capacity is being stretched thin, recoveries are prolonged, and migrations from climate-impacted areas are testing the world, politically and morally.

In July 2019, five months after the Green New Deal bills (H. R. Res. 109/S. Res. 59) were introduced in Congress, an additional pair of resolutions declaring a climate emergency was introduced in the House by Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and in the Senate by Bernie Sanders (H. R. Con. Res. 52/ S. Con. Res. 22), currently with 103 and eight cosponsors, respectively. The pair “demands a massive-scale mobilization to halt, reverse, and address [the emergency’s] consequences and causes” including “a managed phase out of the use of oil, gas, and coal to keep fossil fuels in the ground.” While the resolution addresses the need to control all greenhouse gases, its concept of a managed phase out of fossil fuels goes directly to the root of the largest U.S. contribution to climate breakdown.

We propose a “Cap and Adapt” policy to accomplish the resolution’s proposed managed phaseout of fossil fuels at a speed matching the last-minutes-to-midnight urgency of our climate plight. It is, by design, inherently failsafe, both for meeting any target date for the phaseout and for meeting the needs of individuals, families, communities, and the national economy.

The term “failsafe” emerged in the 1950s to describe systems designed to anticipate potential problems and succeed even in the face of individual failures. A failsafe system does not depend on everything working without interruption but instead builds in effective responses to a breakdown. In everyday language, it typically means a system that is surefire or can’t miss: “unlikely or unable to fail” (Oxford dictionary); “designed so that if one part of it does not work, the whole thing does not become dangerous” (Cambridge dictionary); and which “inherently responds in a way that will cause no or minimal harm … to the environment or people” (Wikipedia).

Writing during the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of how quickly conditions can change. But it’s important to recognize that when the public-health crisis abates, the nation will face countless more climate-aggravated blizzards, heatwaves, ice storms, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Congressional progressives will need to introduce a full-strength draft bill that decisively tackles the fossil fuels problem with a phase-out schedule of appropriate speed that includes a social and economic safety net. We suggest Cap and Adapt.

Leading the target: A failsafe climate policy for fossil fuels

In principle the Cap and Adapt policy is:

  • fast-acting and inherently failsafe for delivering essentially zero fossil fuel emissions (recognizing there will be reasons for continuing to produce those fuels at very low levels), by whatever date will be targeted; while being
  • fair, equitable, and inherently failsafe in meeting the needs of the economy, regions, communities, families, and individuals.

The framework has three parts. The first is a cap on fossil fuel extraction and imports, which declines on a fixed schedule prescribed in the legislation. The cap has primacy in the framework, because stabilizing—and then reversing—the climate crisis must have primacy in public policy. The other two parts, which help society and the economy adapt to that declining supply of fossil fuels, are an enhanced Green New Deal to facilitate the just and complete transition of the U.S. economy to 100% renewable energy, along with a standby program to smoothly and fairly ration national fossil fuel supplies in the event of energy shortages during the transition.

How fast can Cap and Adapt go in eliminating fossil fuels? We propose a ten-year end date, attaining essentially zero fossil fuel use in the United States by 2031. The extraction and import of each kind of fossil fuel and the embedded emissions in imported goods decline to near-nil in ten equal, annual steps. Each annual step is 10% of the quantity of fuels extracted and of the carbon content of goods imported in 2019, the base year we use. However, Cap and Adapt will work for any target date that is established in legislation or by executive order. Ours is an emergency proposal, in contrast to carbon budget-based target dates in other policy proposals (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2018;5 United Nations Environment Programme, 2019).6 Those plans are premised on keeping temperature rise below the arbitrary, very unsafe 1.5°C or 2°C levels and they lead to net-zero emissions dates of 2040, 2050, or beyond.

We acknowledge that the Cap and Adapt proposal sets a high bar that is difficult to clear politically. But in the face of the deepening climate emergency, a bold proposal that leads the target for legislative potential and helps move the goalposts is vital. A weaker policy on fossil fuels or their emissions, if adopted, will fail. Cap and Adapt starts at the top of the fossil fuel supply chain, where regulation is effective, easy to accomplish, and can be failsafe for cutting emissions. Cap and Adapt has three parts: the cap, a mobilization, and standby rationing.

 1. The Cap

This top level of the framework implements the congressional emergency resolution’s call for “a managed phase-out of the use of oil, gas and coal.” It puts a stepwise linearly7 declining cap (an upper limit on the amount of fuel extracted from the ground or imported and on the embedded emissions in imported goods) that will reach essentially zero before a specified date. Each year until then, fossil fuel extractors and importers (“producers”) will be issued free, non-tradeable permits for specific quantities of the raw or imported fuels each is allowed to produce. For domestic producers, this applies at the well or mine; for importers, to the imported raw or finished fuel. The end date will be specified in the legislation and should be aggressive. The cap’s linear rate of decline is identical for overall production of each kind of raw fossil fuel. The annual decline and the permitted production of oil, gas, and coal will be measured in barrels, cubic feet, and tons, respectively, not in carbon content or dollar value.

By its nature, the declining cap is failsafe for meeting the target date because it directly reduces the production of carbon that would be emitted as CO2, the fixed-by-law schedule cannot easily be relaxed, and it is enforceable through permits. An aggressive cap will send a strong signal that new fossil fuel-consuming infrastructure should not be built and that existing infrastructure will soon have to be retired, much of it before its normal end of life. Recent research shows that early retirement of that infrastructure is necessary, even for policies less stringent than Cap and Adapt.8

To avoid inflation, the permits will be issued at no cost, other than perhaps a fee to cover the program’s administration expenses. A price on permits is unnecessary for controlling emissions because the declining cap accomplishes that. Price controls can be utilized if they are necessary to prevent inflation and profiteering.

Importation of goods is a path for some CO2 emissions to “leak” around the domestic cap on fuels extraction, in the form of emissions made outside our borders during manufacture and transport before products reach the port of entry. Such leakage would disadvantage domestic manufacturers and undercut the nation’s emissions reductions. Leakage can be reduced or eliminated with border carbon adjustments, or BCAs (Mehling et al., 2019).9 These must be designed to comply with requirements of international trade treaties, principally the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).10,11 Border adjustments can be made either through quantity ceilings on various kinds of imports, or tariffs on them.

 2. Mobilization: Adapting to the phase-out

A nationwide mobilization of industry, the economy, and the workforce is a necessary part of the program to eliminate America’s fossil fuel emissions, as envisioned in the Green New Deal resolution and the climate emergency resolution. The purpose is to supplant fossil energy through electrification, the construction of a 100% renewable energy supply, and the necessary electricity distribution networks, and by making energy efficiency and conservation improvements. Combining the Green New Deal with the other two parts of the policy framework should eliminate the “rebound effect”—the tendency of improvements in efficiency to lead to more, not less, consumption. With fossil fuel increasingly restricted by the cap, the primary purpose for improving efficiency becomes stretching the utility of fossil fuels and electricity more so than cost savings. Even so, at this systemic level, the cap prevents aggregate cost savings made through energy efficiency from increasing fossil fuel use.

The Green New Deal will need to be enhanced with new mechanisms that allocate the diminishing supplies of fossil fuels and imported goods to the economy’s various sectors in a way that meets people’s needs. A particularly important sector is the Green New Deal’s industrial mobilization, because the energy transition must be completed on schedule. This supply-side allocation mechanism should operate without putting a price on carbon or fuels.

While the Green New Deal is not yet a detailed proposal to Congress, we rely here on its spirit as expressed in HR109/SR59 and its call for rapid mobilization. We also foresee the Green New Deal repurposing some economic sectors to meet the needs of the transition, as was done during the World War II industrial mobilization.12  Importantly, Green New Deal policies will also ensure that no one will be left behind in the transition, and that employment opportunities created by the transition from fossil fuels are open to all, including people from the replaced industries.

 3. Standby rationing: Adapting if shortages occur

A ready-to-go rationing program is necessary in the event that renewable energy capacity (thermal or electric), its supporting infrastructure (e.g., the expanded electric grid), and energy efficiency improvements can’t be put in place fast enough to fully substitute for the cap-enforced decline in fossil fuels. This rationing of fossil fuels would be by quantity (volume or weight of the fuel), instead of by price, as is the case today.

The standby rationing program serves as a kind of insurance policy. Some technology advocates believe expansion of renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, and demand reduction can completely displace and substitute for fossil energy in time to prevent climatic disaster.13 If that turns out to be accurate, a Green New Deal would be sufficient and rationing would not be triggered. However, other researchers have concluded that even a rapid buildup of renewable energy could not completely replace the quantity of energy currently being supplied by fossil fuels.14,15 If the non-fossil energy buildup does not keep up with fossil fuel reductions—which we strongly suspect will be the case—rationing would be a vital safety-net for society, national security, and achieving the necessary climate target. If rationing were triggered, it would affect most dramatically those households (generally affluent ones) with large carbon footprints.

The role of rationing, if shortages arise, would be to ensure fair distribution of available fuels and electricity to households and other end users, satisfy the basic personal needs of all, and avoid the chaotic ad hoc rationing-by-queuing seen during the 1970s oil crisis, when frustrated drivers waited in long lines at the gas pumps. This fair-shares rationing system will issue personal allowances for purchases of fuels and major fuel-using transport services, such as air travel.

Rationing is a policy of last resort, but one with popular appeal under dire circumstances, when people are convinced that it is necessary. Rationing would apply to everyone equally; be fairly administered; and be vigorously enforced to ensure violators are few. This acceptance and success has been demonstrated, both historically and in contemporary societies worldwide, most notably in the United Kingdom and United States during World War II.16,17,18

Some have called for using fossil fuel rationing as a mechanism to reduce CO2 emissions. In Cap and Adapt, the cap performs the emissions-reduction role, with rationing’s role to be at the ready to ensure the climate-failsafe policy is also socially failsafe. Ending fossil fuel use is required; rationing, if needed, is the last of two mechanisms for adapting the nation to that need.

Rationing allowances, like the cap, would be denominated in quantities of fuel, not dollars or relative carbon content. Individuals would have rationing smart-cards, automatically credited with fresh allowances every week and debited when making purchases. Detailed systems for this kind of rationing have been developed but would need to be adjusted for the current situation. For example, more than a decade ago, the U.K. Parliament considered the concept of transferable energy quotas, or TEQs.19 The TEQs approach is based on using market price for industrial allocation and personal trading of carbon quotas, but Cap and Adapt proposes doing this without reliance on price. TEQs were dismissed then as being ahead of their time, but with the now-recognized climate emergency such an approach is timely and urgently needed, in the form of Cap and Adapt.

Several kinds of rationing systems are possible, and any could be used in our climate policy framework. Personal allowances could be either tradeable or non-tradeable, and if they were tradeable that could be through personal sales or via an equitable non-price means. Our belief is that precluding the pricing or sale of allowances, but providing a system for equitable access to a pool of unused allowances, would make the system fairer and better functioning.

Institutionalizing the framework’s two adaptation features

The successful national mobilization during World War II is a model for today. It supported the U.S. economy and society while pursuing the overwhelming task at hand, made sweeping changes in public institutions and policies, and instituted macro-scale government interventions in the economy. The War Production Board, for example, managed the allocation of resources among the military, industrial, and civilian sectors. The Office of Price Administration oversaw price controls and consumer rationing, with local rationing boards that were attuned to local needs handing the day-to-day mechanics. Pricing was not used to make any of these allocations. The bureaucracy required to administer all this was surprisingly modest in size, employing fewer people than the U.S. Post Office of the time.20

Today, the nation’s urgent climate obligation requires a rapid, whole-economy transition from the use of harmful energy sources that are deeply embedded in the economy. The Climate Mobilization, a national climate emergency organization, has published a “Victory Plan”21 describing several agencies that, as in WWII, would be required  to ensure sufficiency and fairness for all under our proposed cap. Cap and Adapt uses the same kind of non-price mechanism as then to allocate fossil fuels among the economy’s sectors, executed flexibly by a government agency to adapt to changing circumstances during the transition. The objective is to ensure that increasingly scarce fossil fuels are prioritized to the production and direct uses that are most needed by society and for the build-out of the transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy. Issuing fossil fuel allowances among the sectors22 is a zero-sum game; because of the cap, an increased allocation to one economic sector means a lower allocation for other sectors. Allocation decisionmaking needs to include public consultation processes at the national, regional, and community levels (including frontline communities, those disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of impacts from industrialization and pollution) and recognize differing needs among regions and between seasons.

Just as with the cap’s free issuance of fossil fuel production permits, the allowances for fossil fuel use allocated to the economic sectors would also be free. This avoids inflation and keeps fuels affordable, until the time their production is eliminated. If price gouging begins to occur, price controls could be applied. Everyone normally expects that lower prices will lead to increased consumption and emissions. But here, the cap on fossil fuel extraction completely decouples price level from consumption and emissions (although fossil fuel prices should nonetheless be maintained above the prices of renewable energy). So, employing price controls would not impair the rapid elimination of these fuels. Furthermore, there would be no argument for using a carbon tax to reduce fossil-fuel demand, because emissions will be controlled by the declining cap on fossil fuels. Another way Cap and Adapt drives energy consumption away from fossil fuels is the cap’s transparent, definite schedule for rapid elimination of fossil fuels in the marketplace. It would provide certainty for consumers, industry, and financiers.

Similar to the allocation of fuels, the permits for importation of emissions that are embedded in goods would be issued at no cost and the allocations to various sectors of the economy would give priority to the needs of society and the energy transition. Here too, the no-cost permits would help avoid inflation, and also help prevent complaints under international trade agreements that the free allocation of domestically extracted fuels is a non-price barrier to trade. Besides contributing to reductions in the nation’s carbon footprint, the border carbon adjustment involved in this would serve a leadership function, encouraging exporting nations to shift to carbon-free production, an effect amplified by the fact that the cap declines rapidly to nearly nil.

Comparison to other policy approaches

Cap and Adapt vs. carbon pricing

Pricing strategies such as carbon fee-and-dividend, cap and trade, or polluter-pays taxation (which really means the customer pays) rely on indirect economic linkages, operate through time-wasting gradualism, and offer incomplete emissions reductions. Because prices are a familiar feature of the economy, using them to try to control greenhouse gas emissions and to distribute fossil fuels within the economy seems natural to many people. But that pricing is poison for climate policy, as indicated by the angry reaction of the Yellow Vest movement in France to rising fuel prices,23  failures of two State of Washington voter initiatives,24 and the repeal of Australia’s carbon tax.25  Several studies show that to be effective, the price on carbon would have to rise to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per ton.5,26  This is inflationary and pits everyone against everyone else, instead of fostering a sense of common purpose.

Another difficulty with pricing is that the ability to pay—the wealthy always have much more ability than others—would influence the allocation of fuels to different uses (e.g., to jet fuel rather than gasoline) and to different sectors of production (e.g., favoring luxury goods over necessities). That has been acceptable to many in a time of unrestrained energy consumption, but it cannot be tolerated when available energy is limited. The systemic, inherent unfairness and counter-efficiency of pricing mechanisms are seeds for malfunction or self-destruction of a policy. In contrast, a policy focus on phasing-out the sources of carbon—directly keeping the devil in the ground—is simpler and more reliable than trying to reduce emissions indirectly by pricing carbon. And history shows that it will spark far less resentment.

Although taxes on carbon or fossil fuels could help fund the energy transition, we are now too late in attacking climate change to rely on such partial, unreliable solutions for reducing emissions. The funds generated by a carbon or fuel tax would decline under an effective climate policy as less fuel is used, with revenue reaching low levels just at the time when the more expensive-to-reach, high-hanging fruit in the mitigation technology tree becomes crucial. Better funding options include taxes on wealth or high incomes, redirecting subsidies presently going to the fossil fuel industry, or using modern monetary theory.27,28,29

Cap and Adapt vs. other “managed decline” proposals

Oil Change International and others have proposed a different approach, which they categorize as a “managed decline” policy.30 This uses a prohibition on new development of fossil fuel deposits and further exploration, rather than using a hard-and-fast schedule for reduction in the flow of all fuel. This approach is passive; by not regulating sources that are already producing, it sets the fossil fuel end-date to be when existing sources happen to reach depletion. Because of this limitation, managed decline can’t achieve the aggressive end-dates that climate activists are increasingly demanding. Furthermore, not addressed is the potential for a gap between this policy’s putative decline in fossil fuel extraction and the capability of a Green New Deal to, at all times, adapt to that decline. The proposal isn’t failsafe for meeting an emissions target by any specific date, much less an aggressive date, or for protecting people in the event of possible fossil fuel shortages.


The Green New Deal resolution expresses hope, but not certainty, that its massive ten-year national mobilization will get the nation to net-zero emissions. It has no provision for ensuring that performance. The climate emergency resolution before the Congress recognizes that a managed phase-out of all fossil fuels is required. With respect to fossil fuel emissions, Cap and Adapt embodies the intents of both resolutions. And it takes their concepts further, with a coordinated three-part framework designed to be failsafe for accomplishing the fossil fuel phase-out on an aggressive schedule, and to be failsafe for the needs of the economy and people in the event that shortages develop.

Although a policy might be functionally failsafe due to its nature, no policy can be politically failsafe after it’s adopted. Any effective policy will always be open to challenge. The best that can be done is to make the policy inherently fair, which provides some immunity from being repealed or weakened, while still achieving its purpose. Cap and Adapt’s adaptive features provide fairness that helps defend against challenges to the cap. This is the best that any climate policy can do politically and still be effective.

Green and Denniss (2018)31 have called for emissions-cutting climate policy to use “both arms of the scissors,” meaning supply-side and demand-side approaches. Cap and Adapt does so, with the primary element being the supply-side cap on fossil fuel production and imports. It then uses two kinds of demand-side policies to adapt society and the economy to the cap and provide a safety net. We believe Cap and Adapt offers both speed and effectiveness and is as failsafe as any climate policy can be. If adopted in one major emitting nation, that nation can then inspire its cohorts to follow suit.32

The Cap & Adapt solution, in sum:

1. Place a simple, easily understood and enforced cap on the quantity of each kind of fossil fuel (oil, gas, coal – by volume or weight) at the point it enters the national economy, and reduce the cap on each one in equal annual steps until the amount entering the economy reaches zero. In a fast decline to zero (10 or 15 years) there is no need to base the caps on the fuels’ differing carbon content per unit energy; using quantity if effective.

2. Using national, regional and local boards (as during WWII), allocate each year’s available fossil fuels to where they are most needed or beneficial: among economic sectors, regions and communities of all kinds; in consideration of the seasons; and for the needs of the Green New Deal’s transitional mobilization. To avoid inflation, the allocations should be free and non-tradeable, which is possible because cap fully controls fossil fuel emissions, and because price controls can be used if necessary. Optionally, pricing can be used in the allocations, but seems unnecessary and likely counterproductive.

3. To make up for the decline and elimination of fossil fuels in the economy, a Green New Deal will build renewable energy infrastructure and seek to reduce energy demand by improving energy efficiency and other means. The Green New Deal will also ensure a just transition for workers and communities.

4. If the decline and elimination of fossil fuels results in shortages (but which some scientists say can be avoided) a rationing program planned out in advance will be used if, when and to the extent necessary. This will provide fairness and avoid the chaos that unplanned, ad hoc rationing caused in the 1970s. Cap & Adapt can accommodate either tradeable or non-tradeable allowance schemes for rationing.

5. One major GHG-emitting nation, or a club of a few of them, could adopt policy based on the above Cap & Adapt framework, and then work to persuade other nations to follow suit, either individually or en masse at a UNFCCC Conference of Parties.

The authors believe Cap & Adapt is a complete framework for policy that can, as safely and quickly as possible, eliminate fossil fuels at the national level, and perhaps beyond. Even if not ultimately adopted,  Cap & Adapt can serve as a benchmark for judging the effectiveness of other policy proposals.

References & Endnotes

  1. H. Res.109 (2019). Recognizing The Duty Of The Federal Government To Create A Green New Deal. Lead sponsor Rep. Ocasio-Cortes. (Introd. 7 Feb 2019).
  2. S. Res. 59 (2019). Recognizing The Duty Of The Federal Government To Create a Green New Deal. Lead sponsor Sen. Markey. (Introd. 7 Feb 2019).
  3. H. CON. RES. 52 (2019). Expressing The Sense Of Congress That There Is A Climate Emergency Which Demands  A  Massive-Scale Mobilization To Halt, Reverse, And Address Its Consequences And Causes. Lead Sponsor  Rep. Blumenaur. (Introd. 9 July 2019).
  4. S. Con. Res. 22 (2019). Expressing The Sense Of Congress That There Is A Climate Emergency Which Demands A Massive-Scale Mobilization To Halt, Reverse, And Address Its Consequences And Causes. Lead sponsor Sen. Sanders. (Introd. 17 July 2019).
  5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C. (2018). Geneva.
  6. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). (2019). The Production Gap: The Discrepancy Between Countries’ Planned Fossil Fuel Production And Global Production Levels Consistent With Limiting Warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. (2019). Nairobi.
  7. Other ways to schedule the decline are possible, but this way is the most straight-forward and easily comprehended. Steeper decline rates in earlier years of the transition are more effective in limiting climate change harms.
  8. Tong, D et al. Committed emissions from existing energy infrastructure jeopardize 1.5 °C climate target. Nature 572, 373–377 (2019).
  9. Mehling, M, Van Asselt, H, Das, K, Droege, S & Verkuijl, C. Designing border carbon adjustments for enhanced climate action. American Journal of International Law 113, 433–481 (2019). https://doi:10.1017/ajil.2019.22
  10. General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. (1994). World Trade Organization, Geneva.
  11. Among the relevant GATT (1986) principles that a BCA must adhere to are evenhandedness, transparency, and predictability. The measure must be for legitimate public policy reasons (e.g., conservation of an exhaustible resource, or protection of human, animal and plant life) and make a “material contribution” to its underlying purpose, in this case ratcheting down fossil fuel use, by preventing trade leakage.
  12. Rockoff, H. Drastic Measures: A History Of Wage And Price Controls In The United States. Cambridge University Press (1984). pp. 85–126.
  13. Jacobson, MZ, Delucchi, MA, Cameron, MA & Frew, BA. Low-cost solution to the grid reliability problem with 100% penetration of intermittent wind, water, and solar for all purposes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112, 15060-15065 (2015).
  14. Clack CT et al. Evaluation of a proposal for reliable low-cost grid power with 100% wind, water, and solar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, 6722–6727 (2017).
  15. Loftus, P, Cohen, A, Long, J & Jenkins, J. (2015). A critical review of global decarbonization scenarios: What do they tell us about feasibility? Climate Change 6, 93-112 (2017).
  16. Bentley, A. Eating for victory: Food rationing and the politics of domesticity. University of Illinois Press. (1998).
  17. Rockoff (1984). (Supra), p. 130.
  18. Cox, S. Any way you slice it: The past, present and future of rationing. The New Press, New York (2013). ISBN 9781595588098.
  19. Chamberlin, S, Maxey, L, & Hurth, V. Reconciling scientific reality with realpolitik: Moving beyond carbon pricing to TEQs – an integrated, economy-wide emissions cap. Carbon Management 5, 411-427 (2014).
  20. Rockoff (1984). (Supra), p. 175.
  21. Silk, E & Bamberger, K. (2019, March). The Climate Mobilization: Victory plan. The Climate Mobilization (2019).
  22. The sectors and subsectors in the allocation scheme could be as coarse or fine as necessary, and could change over time to meet changing circumstances. The system must encompass the entire economy, including its governmental, military, and civilian (including industrial, agricultural, transport, service, etc.) components.
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  27. Stated simply, modern monetary theory is the contemporarily hotly debated idea that a country with sovereign fiat currency cannot become insolvent because it can deal with a financial deficit by printing more money, within some very large limits.
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2019 Perennial Grain International Research Meeting


Kernza®CAP: Efforts Driven by Multi-state Coalition

Perennial agriculture has the potential to transform US agriculture by improving sustainability and prosperity. The Land Institute is part of a multi-state coalition of researchers, farmers, educators, industry leaders, policy experts, and climate scientists recently awarded a 5-year, $10 million grant through USDA NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Sustainable Agricultural Systems program to scale the research, production, awareness and commercialization of Kernza.

The Land Institute provides joint leadership to the project with the University of Minnesota who serves as the award recipient and home institution for the project. A portion of project funds will be managed directly by TLI and will help fund new project related positions and activities. This grant and the long-term collaborative relationship with University of Minnesota is a great example of the critical role TLI has and will continue to play to expand the development of perennial grains on a global scale. From providing original seeds (germplasm) to launch new breeding programs, to collaborating on grant funding opportunities like this, TLI is igniting the work required to realize our perennial vision.

The project, titled Developing and Deploying a Perennial Grain Crop Enterprise to Improve Environmental Quality and Rural Prosperity, seeks to transform U.S. agriculture production by developing the blueprint for systems to shift from annual row crop production that requires tilling and planting every year to perennial production. By building the support system necessary to successfully increase Kernza acres across the US agricultural landscape, this project aims to improve the environmental sustainability of food production and demonstrate the viability of new perennial crops as real economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities. This project will be led by six teams composed of researchers, industry leaders, farmers, educators, and policy makers from 10 universities and 24 non-profit and farm and food organizations. The work will be both regional and national as the organizations work in their regions sharing, integrating and collaborating across objectives and teams. 

The project has six objectives:

  1. Advance germplasm and trait evaluation – results will include new Kernza cultivars that yield more grain and enhance critical ecosystem services.
  2. Enhance agronomic and on farm knowledge – results will include best management practices for advising growers on Kernza agronomic production.
  3. Improve environmental quality – Kernza’s deep root system has multiple environmental benefits—including reducing nitrate leaching and runoff, soil erosion, tillage requirements and overall agricultural  inputs.
  4. Engage education, extension, and policy – this project aims to improve the environmental sustainability of food production and demonstrate the viability of new perennial cropping systems as real economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities.
  5. Develop supply chains and economic drivers – results will include increased market demand for integrating Kernza into food and co-product markets. 
  6. Intentional integration – strong project focus on whole systems thinking acknowledges that perennial crops must be coupled with supportive policies, education and behavior change, market pull, and a reexamination of equity and emphasis on community-driven regionalized economic models to truly activate transformative change.

The KernzaⓇCAP project officially launched on September 1st. More information on Kernza, the project partners, updates and reports on research findings, additional press materials, and field day demonstration information can be found on

Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?

In May of 2019, The Land Institute teamed up with colleagues at Lund University in Sweden to host the international meeting “Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?” The title of the meeting came from a paper by TLI and Lund researchers published in Global Sustainability, a journal recently launched by the Stockholm Resilience Group. The meeting was held at Lund University’s Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, spanned an entire week, involving three days of keynotes, thematic talk sessions, and break-out discussions, and two days of study tours to farms and research sites. The Lund conference was the largest meeting of its kind to date, involving over 100 researchers from 15 countries on five continents.

Locations of participants’ home institutions.

International Research Meetings on Transitioning to Perennial Polycultures

TLI poster in Pufendorf Institute

“Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial” built on ten previous international meetings spanning three decades of collaborations between researchers at The Land Institute and colleagues from around the world. These meetings initially focused on the need and rationale for a transition to perennial polycultures. With time, the focus of the meetings has shifted to challenges and breakthroughs in perennial crop breeding and agroecology. This series of meetings has resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications, and two have resulted in published books.

“Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?” Program

Fengyi Hu, Wes Jackson, and Shilai Zhang enjoy the first perennial rice eaten in Europe.

The Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies defines itself as place where….

“Researchers of different disciplinary backgrounds are given the opportunity to work together on scientific and societal challenges. In order to find answers to complicated problems, we stimulate boundary-crossing collaboration and encourage early-stage research ideas, which we believe have the potential to open up new research frontiers. This is why we support collaborative, interdisciplinary groups with members who endeavor to learn from each other.”

With this in mind, the meeting in Lund was organized to maximize meaningful exchange between different disciplines in order to make progress on key topics in natural systems agriculture.  Topics included:

  • Experiences accelerating progress in breeding (e.g., genomic selection, mutagenesis)
  • Designing and breeding for functional polycultures (e.g., grain-legume intercrops)
  • Ecological intensification at the species, community, and ecosystem scales
  • Advances and challenges in wide hybridization (sorghum, wheat, rice, barley)
  • Novel candidates for domestication and a global effort for expanding perennial crop research
  • Economic, political, and social aspects of adopting perennial polycultures

The complete program of talks can be found here.

Keynote Presentations

Keynote Presentations were filmed by staff from the Pufendorf Institute and have been posted to YouTube. They can be viewed below.

Study Tours

Columbia University PhD student Alex Huddel explains her research at SAFE.

Researchers participated in study tours on the opening and closing days of the conference.  On Monday morning the group visited the Högestad Estate located 40 km East of Lund where in fall of 2018 farmers planted 25 hectares (62 acres) of Kernza seed from The Land Institute. The Kernza is being grown organically with fertility from either manure from Högestad livestock, or from N-fixing white clover that is intercropped with the Kernza.  In the afternoon the group travelled to a long term experiment called Sites Agroecology Field Experiment (SAFE) where many soil and crop features in Kernza  and Kernza-alfalfa fields are being measured and compared with conventional and organic cropping systems from Southern Sweden. SAFE is associated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in Lönnstorp, and is one of nine field stations operated by the Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science (SITES).

Dorte Bodin Dresboll by DeepFrontier root towers.

On Friday, meeting participants traveled to visit the DeepFrontier agricultural research facility operated by the University of Copenhagen near the town of Taastrup.  The DeepFrontier project consists of above and belowground root observatories designed to explore the various functions of deep roots in agricultural crops.  Several of the species included in the DeepFrontier project are perennials that either came from The Land Institute (Kernza and Silphium) or are the focus of research at The Land Institute (alfalfa and lupines).  The aboveground root observatories are towers standing four meters tall with removable panels for filming or sampling roots. The belowground observatories consist of 5 meter long “mini-rhizotrons” (see presentation by Corentin Bonaventure L R Clement) which are clear plastic tubes drilled at an angle into the soil for filming roots with digital cameras.

Media Coverage

Two of the most respected newspapers in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, published full length articles on perennial grains during the week of the meeting. In addition, Pufendorf Institute staff produced a short video, Why Perennial Grains?, in concert with the meeting.

Architects of “Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial?”: Lennart Olsson, Lund University Professor, founding Director of LUCSUS, and Land Institute Board member (left) and Tim Crews, Land Institute Director of Research and soil ecologist.

Meeting Sponsors

Numerous organizations, foundations and individuals in Sweden and the US contributed generously to make this meeting possible. They included: