Countries chart pathways toward deeper decarbonization

Globally, countries are committing to near-term actions to address climate change and many, including Canada, Mexico, Germany and the U.S., are beginning to look much further ahead to the long-term strategies needed to reduce the significant risks of a changing climate. These strategies highlight options that can yield the necessary reductions to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition, on Thursday the climate champions Laurence Tubiana and Hakima El Haite announced the 2050 Pathways Platform to support other countries in the development of their mid-century strategies. Twenty-two countries have signed up for the initiative, and many have indicated they will work toward their own strategies. In addition, 15 cities, 17 state and regions, and nearly 200 companies have joined the initiative to support national strategies.

All of the plans submitted thus far focus on technology pathways rather than specific policies. Another common element is a focus on changes to land use and forestry that can absorb some of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. The strategies also prioritize which sectors of the economy really need to transform: energy, transportation, land-use and forest sequestration, and short-lived climate pollutants.

The decision to release the U.S, Canadian and Mexican mid-century strategies together at COP 22 in Marrakech was made at a joint leaders’ summit in Ottawa in June, building on the countries’ economic ties and shared energy and transport infrastructure.

In the U.S., there are three focus areas for achieving significant emission reductions: decarbonizing the energy sector, improving the U.S. land sink, and reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases. The U.S. strategy identifies positive trends over the last decade in each of these areas, and puts forward priorities for strengthening those trends.

These priorities include improved efficiency throughout the energy system, transitioning almost completely to non-emitting energy sources (including nuclear and fossil fuel with capture capture technology for electricity generation), enhancing carbon sequestration on U.S. lands, developing negative emissions technology (BECCS, or Beneficial Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage), and reducing methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbon emissions.

The U.S. strategy does not give a preferred balance between these priorities, but does include model scenarios showing that overachieving on any one priority would mean other priorities would need to contribute less. For example, the analysis that underlies the strategy includes a scenario with no CO2 removal technology. If negative emission technologies do not become available, the U.S. could still meet its 2050 goal by creating a larger land sink and achieving larger reductions in the energy sector.

While the mid-century strategy does not specify policy recommendations, it does note that “a key priority for future policymakers is a transition to efficient carbon pricing over time,” either at a subnational or economy-wide level.

Mid-century strategies can guide the private sector to make long-term investments consistent with the 2050 goals. It may also provide a framework for collaboration between governments and cities, states, and companies around a vision for deep decarbonization. C2ES looks forward to working with businesses and governments at all levels to provide vital input to these strategies.

(Contributing author: C2ES Solutions Fellow Ashley Lawson)