In Brief: Update on the 10-50 Solution: Progress Toward a Low-Carbon Future

Addressing the challenge of global climate change will require a significant reduction in annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States and throughout the world by 2050. This will necessitate a fundamental shift from an economy predominantly based on traditional fossil fuel use to one based on efficiently managed low-carbon energy sources, including technologies that capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2).

Achievement of this transition depends on both near-term and long-term actions that take advantage of current technologies and opportunities and that also make substantial investments in the technologies of the future. But most of all, the United States needs a clearly enunciated and sustained policy to guide those actions. Too often the debate over GHG emission reductions pits near-term actions against long-term investments in technology, when in fact both are necessary and more effective together.

In 2004, the Pew Center held a workshop (the “10-50” Workshop) to understand the technologies likely to enable a low-carbon future by mid-century (50 years) and identify policy options for the coming decade (10 years) to help “push” and “pull” these technologies into the market. This brief reviews some of the key policies and actions deemed important five years ago and reports on progress against those goals to date; it finds significant progress in pushing low-carbon technologies and underscores the critical remaining need for a policy, such as cap and trade, that puts a price on carbon and “pulls” those technologies into the marketplace.