Climate consequences of low-carbon fuels: The United States Renewable Fuel Standard

Jason Hill, Liaila Tajibaeva, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


A common strategy for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use is to increase the supply of low-carbon alternatives. However, increasing supply tends to lower energy prices, which encourages additional fuel consumption. This “fuel market rebound effect” can undermine climate change mitigation strategies, even to the point where efforts to reduce GHG emissions by increasing the supply of low-carbon fuels may actually result in increased GHG emissions. Here, we explore how policies that encourage the production of low-carbon fuels may result in increased GHG emissions because the resulting increase in energy use overwhelms the benefits of reduced carbon intensity. We describe how climate change mitigation strategies should follow a simple rule: a low-carbon fuel with a carbon intensity of X% that of a fossil fuel must displace at least X% of that fossil fuel to reduce overall GHG emissions. We apply this rule to the United States Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). We show that absent consideration of the fuel market rebound effect, RFS2 appears to reduce GHG emissions, but once the fuel market rebound effect is factored in, RFS2 actually increases GHG emissions when all fuel GHG intensity targets are met.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-353
Number of pages3
JournalEnergy Policy
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this work was provided by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment: Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment Grant RO-0002-11 , the U.S. Department of Energy Award EE0004397 , and the U.S. Department of Agriculture NIFA Grant 2013-67009-20377 .


  • Climate change
  • Fossil fuel
  • Rebound effect

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