The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) just released a preliminary, technical report that shows how the United States can cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 – provided the political will is there. Such a drastic cut is necessary in order to achieve the internationally agreed target of no more than a 2°C (3.6°F) increase on global mean surface temperature compared to pre-industrial levels. The report also uses very conservative measurements to conclude that it would only take around one percent of GDP per annum to achieve this outcome.
The DDPP consists of 15 research teams representing the 15 countries that produce the most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the U.K., and the U.S. Combined, these 15 countries produce 70 percent of global GHG emissions. A team from each country is responsible for preparing their own nation’s reports, and a feature of the project is that they begin with the scenario of a 2°C cap and then work backwards to nut out possible ways to achieve it.
In terms of energy system infrastructure and technology required to meet the U.S. reductions, the team found: “Deep decarbonization requires three fundamental changes in the U.S. energy system: (1) highly efficient end use of energy in buildings, transportation, and industry; (2) decarbonization of electricity and other fuels; and (3) fuel switching of end uses to electricity and other low-carbon supplies. All of these changes are needed, across all sectors of the economy, to meet the target of an 80% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.” The team modeled four different low-carbon scenarios, which included “different energy saving measures, fuel switching, and four types of decarbonized electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case.”
Even with an assumption of increasing growth through to 2050, all four models were able to deliver at least 80 percent reductions in GHG emissions. A key takeaway from the report, however, was that action needs to begin now in order to reduce the disruptions that later implementation will necessitate — disruptions which seem to have already paralyzed many policymakers with fear. Starting now means that natural attrition of infrastructure can occur, rather than incurring the expense of having to “strand assets” in order to meet targets. In the report’s press release lead author Jim Williams notes: “One important conclusion is that investment opportunities in clean technologies will arise during the natural rollover and replacement of infrastructure. The plan calls for non-disruptive, sustained infrastructure transitions that can deeply decarbonize the U.S. by 2050, and enhance its competitive position in the process.” Check out the full report via the link below, and David Roberts over at Grist has an excellent in-depth analysis too.