“Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” Report: Switching to Clean Energy Achievable, Creates Enormous Economic Opportunities

A recent report by a group of independent, international experts on sustainable development examines “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” – namely, “how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy consistent with the internationally agreed goal of limiting anthropogenic warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C).” The report, which is well worth reading, was prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August 2012; describes itself as “an independent global network of research centers, universities and technical institutions aiming to mobilize scientific and technical expertise for problem-solving in relation to sustainable development”) and The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) (a non-profit policy research institute based in Paris). Here are a few key findings.

  • Decarbonizing the economy is realistic and achievable. “Deep decarbonization of today’s highest emitting economies is technically achievable and can accommodate expected economic and population growth...Across all scenarios, by the year 2050 energy-related CO2 emissions for the 16 [Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project – DDPP] countries were reduced to…46-56% below 2010 levels.”
  • Doing so can help keep the world from dangerous climate disruption. “DDPP cumulative emissions are not inconsistent with the 2°C limit, in comparison to an IPCC benchmark. “
  • Energy efficiency, clean energy are the keys. “All deep decarbonization pathways incorporatethree pillars” of energy system transformation: energy efficiency and conservation, decarbonizing electricity and fuels, and switching end uses to low-carbon supplies.”
  • Countries need to become much more energy efficient. “Energy efficiency reduced the energy intensity of GDP by an average of 65%, with nearly all countries making their economies two to four times more energy efficient in 2050 than in 2010”
  • Need to get off of coal and oil ASAP. “The dominant trend in final energy consumption is to replace coal and petroleum with electricity and lower carbon fuels, including a coal to natural gas shift in some DDPs. Much of the direct combustion of fossil fuels in end-use equipment such as automobiles, hot water heaters, and industrial boilers is replaced by decarbonized electricity”
  • Decarbonized technologies are affordable, providing the same or better energy services as polluting ones. “Deep decarbonization is essentially the process of improving infrastructure over time by replacing inefficient and carbon-intensive technologies with efficient and low-carbon technologies that provide the same (or better) energy services.”
  • Transitioning to clean energy presents major economic opportunities. “Under deep decarbonization, the scale of investment in low-carbon technologies will be orders of magnitude higher than current levels, creating major economic opportunities for forward-looking countries and businesses”
  • Scaling up clean energy can help drive rapid price declines in solar, wind, etc. “International agreement to cooperate in deep decarbonization offers the promise of rapidly expanding markets and potentially dramatic cost declines in many key low-carbon technologies.”
  • Setting decarbonization pathways is helpful in a variety of important ways. “[Deep Decarbonization Pathways — DDPs] are needed for increasing the ambition of country commitments to reduce their GHG emissions under the UNFCCC,”  “for staying within carbon budgets and avoiding dead ends,” ” to coordinate policy and investment across jurisdictions, sectors, and levels of government,” “to inform long-term technology roadmaps,” ” for private-sector decision-making,”

These findings reinforce much of what we’ve been writing about here at Scaling Green for years. For instance, as we noted in Scaling Green’s 15 Top Cleantech Stories of 2015, the cost of clean energy solutions – wind, solar, energy storage – has been plummeting and are expected to continue falling in coming years. Combined with the environmental imperative to rapidly transition off of fossil fuels, it shouldn’t be a surprise that countries and corporations around the world have been announcing plans to move from dirty to clean energy as quickly as possible.

Perhaps the most important and exciting point is that the best energy sources environmentally are increasingly the best ones economically as well, demolishing what’s left of the discredited argument that there’s some sort of negative tradeoff between economic growth and increased penetration of clean energy. To the contrary, what we’re seeing is an increasingly positive relationship between economic growth, sustainability and clean energy — and an increasingly negative relationship between fossil fuels, economic and environmental well-being. In short, there are a host of reasons to decarbonize, and essentially no reasons to remain hooked on carbon-based fuels. The only question is how fast we ditch fossil fuels and go 100% cleantech.